Pristine areas of ocean near World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef and the far north Kimberley coast could be opened to drilling for oil and gas under Federal Government plans.
Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is expected to announce today the latest areas to be released for offshore oil and gas exploration at an industry convention in Adelaide.
The announcement could put Mr Ferguson on a collision course with conservationists after draft plans identified big areas for release about 50km north of Ningaloo Reef.
Also included in the draft plans was an area close to the far Kimberley coast near the Northern Territory border and one of the last unclaimed areas off Browse Island, north of Broome.
Although the minister's office said yesterday the draft plans were subject to change, any move to consider the north Kimberley could spark a new brawl in the battle between Perth and Canberra.
In October 2010, Premier Colin Barnett unveiled plans for a marine park across much of the north Kimberley coast, saying it was "one of the most pristine areas remaining in the world".
He said it would help protect a number of iconic and endangered species such as the humpback whale and dugong.
WWF WA director Paul Gamblin said the increasing rate at which the Government was releasing oil and gas acreage undermined marine conservation efforts.
He said the Government should be slowing or temporarily halting offshore exploration given plans for a network of marine parks around Australia but it was releasing bigger areas instead.
"It's concerning the resources arm of the Federal Government continues to release large and very, very sensitive areas of Australia's marine environment without the checks and balances you would expect," he said.
Mr Ferguson did not indicate what areas would be included in the final announcement. He is expected to talk today about Australia's role as a major gas exporter.
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