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How coal expansion in Australia could gravely endanger the Great Barrier Reef. By Sam Schanfarber.

Opinion: Great Barrier Reef grief, the travesty of expansion at the cost of tropical life

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Energy corporations with the largest profit margins often seem quickest to try to save a few bucks, particularly when it comes at the expense of the environment.

Take, for instance, the current proposal to further construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline. TransCanada and partner ConocoPhillips hope to deliver crude oil to the continental U.S. in a cheaper way by clear-cutting swaths of forestry to make way for a massive above-ground oil pipeline. This shaves production costs on a product unlikely to fluctuate in consumer value. The proposal is still up for consideration in Congress, regardless of the recommendation of environmental safety organizations such as Friends of the Earth.

This trend is all too common in modern energy production.

Another unfortunate example of such carelessness to save cost is about to occur in Australia. Earlier this year, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority approved plans for the expansion of the Abbot Point Port — plans that include removing old sediment and dumping it just 16 miles from the Great Barrier Reef. Operated by North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, the company hopes to use the larger port to increase the amount of coal it can export from inland. This will offer the local community little, but will provide an influx of jobs and the guaranteed deterioration of an environmental sanctuary.

According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society, sediment dumped within 80 km (roughly 50 miles) of a coral reef risks contamination of the surrounding waters. Yet, rather than seek a dumping site beyond the meager requirement for safe distance, North Queensland pointed out that the area they chose for a dumpsite wasn’t actually a coral reef or protected grasslands and ignored the possibility of sediment being carried by ocean currents.

But North Queensland promises to give back to the community through programs like a Reef Guardian School Program, offering an education in the environment similar to the kind they teach at Sea World. And there’s also turtle monitoring, in which a cousin of the GoPro is attached to a sea turtle so the modern world may observe its tears as it watches the destruction of his home.

Beyond the immediate threat of destroying the Great Barrier Reef, the underlying issue with the Abbot Point Port expansion is the implications for future development, both foreign and domestic. The Australian government has essentially expressed its willingness to sacrifice the environment for a strengthened GDP—after all, higher production output from mining operations means greater dividends from exports.

This ensures two things on a global front. First, it shows western governments are willing to sacrifice the planet for pursuit of industrial power. But even worse, it marks a major step backward in becoming more reliant on green energy. If this is the kind of work Australia’s government is willing to approve, solar energy and other green sectors are going to have a hard time gaining vital ground in mass consumer applications. With this kind of attitude, it won’t be long before the Great Barrier Reef itself becomes the underwater manifestation of Detroit.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Schanfarber at

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