barrow island quarantine: beyond best practice
Barrow Island is a sunbaked nature reserve painted with reddish soil, scrubby bushes and undulating limestone hills that is home to 24 species and subspecies found nowhere else on Earth. Located 37 miles (60 km) off the Western Australian coast, the island was last connected to the mainland more than 8,000 years ago. Giant perentie lizards as fast as an Olympic sprinter, golden bandicoots, burrowing bettongs and flatback turtles inhabit the island. In 1910, Barrow Island was designated a Class A Nature Reserve, the highest level of environmental protection offered by the Australian government.
chevron protects biodiversity
Chevron has instituted a strict quarantine management system to protect biodiversity on Barrow Island. In addition to being a Class A nature preserve, the island off Western Australia is also home to Chevron's massive Gorgon natural gas development project.
To protect the unique ecosystems on and around the 91-square-mile (235-sq-km) island, a rigorous Quarantine Management System (QMS) was developed. The QMS pioneers a risk-based quarantine approach with more than 300 procedures, specifications, checklists and guidelines. One of the initiatives includes more than 70 acoustic sensors being placed on the island to detect the non-native Asian house gecko. The sensors are tuned to listen for the distinctive chirp of the gecko, which hitchhikes on vessels and cargo and could threaten native gecko species.
Fifty years have passed since oil began flowing on Barrow Island. It has become the largest onshore oil field in Australia and is also home to the Chevron-operated Gorgon Project. In 2009, Australian State and Commonwealth Governments approved the Gorgon Project, and today it is one of the world’s largest natural gas projects and the largest single-resource development in the country’s history. The Gorgon Project is operated by an Australian subsidiary of Chevron (47.3 percent interest), in joint venture with the Australian subsidiaries of ExxonMobil (25 percent), Shell (25 percent), Osaka Gas (1.25 percent), Tokyo Gas (1 percent) and Chubu Electric Power (0.417 percent). It includes the construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant and a domestic gas plant on Barrow Island, as well as offshore wells, a 1.3-mile (2.1-km) LNG loading jetty, and the world’s largest commercial-scale CO2 injection facility to reduce the project’s greenhouse gas emissions. More than 6,000 people are living and working on and around the island, and hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo and equipment have been received, adding to the risk for the entry of nonindigenous species.
“It only takes one incident to destroy a species,” said consultant and naturalist Dr. Harry Butler, who has worked in partnership with Chevron for 50 years. “Chevron has the highest-level government-approved program designed to continue to preserve the environmental values of Barrow Island. It is a globally recognized model.”
The QMS is the largest nongovernment quarantine initiative in the world. Since the Gorgon Project began, there have been zero introductions or proliferations of nonindigenous species on Barrow Island or in its surrounding waters.
“The QMS aims to facilitate the construction and operation of a gas processing facility on Barrow Island while protecting the conservation values of the island. Our team is setting new benchmarks in quarantine management involving surveillance and monitoring of non-native species and responding to any threats.”
Managing Director, Chevron Australia
unique barriers protect barrow island
Since oil was discovered in 1964, Chevron has preserved the integrity of the island’s environment by maintaining natural habitats and preventing the introduction of nonindigenous plants, animals and micro-organisms. More recently, these efforts have been supported and sustained by the development of the QMS.
Invasive species are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity and to the ecological and economic well-being of society and the planet, according to Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
“Quarantine management is about understanding the risk associated with our material pathways and putting effective barriers in place at key points during fabrication and in the supply chain to prevent quarantine risk material reaching Barrow Island,” said Chevron Quarantine Manager Johann van der Merwe. The QMS applies to all Gorgon Project operations – in Australia, on Barrow Island and at overseas construction facilities.
Thirteen pathways have been identified by which nonindigenous species might enter the island, including food, luggage, marine vessels and helicopter transfers, to name a few. These pathways are part of a series of QMS interventions to protect the island.
Prior to arrival at Barrow Island, preborder efforts focus on screening all passengers, cargo and equipment for quarantine compliance. Oversized machinery and equipment – including small buildings – are shrink wrapped and pest control measures applied before transport. Mail is screened using visual inspection techniques, detector dogs and X-ray. All fresh food undergoes intensive washing, preparation, packaging and inspection before it is shipped, a model the contractor now uses across its business. Anything noncompliant is remediated or refused transit.
Upon arrival at Barrow Island, border inspections provide another layer of screening. “Today’s technology gives us the ability to detect even the smallest risks, such as a single ant, millipede or spider, which has made a huge difference in our ability to protect the island,” said Gorgon Project Quarantine Operations Manager Barbara Marks. If needed, items are remediated or returned to the mainland.
Post border activities include ecological monitoring of species trends on the island, surveillance to determine the presence or absence of nonindigenous species, and eradication and control capabilities that provide an early chance of success without significant environmental harm.
“Our rapid response capability for quarantine issues and our preparedness plans are very specific,” said Marks. “We have 47 response plans on how to address invasive species, so if a non-native ant species invades, we know exactly what to do to protect the island.”
To date, quarantine activities have included the screening of 55,000 shipping containers, more than 335,000 passengers and enough food to serve more than 10 million meals
quarantine culture drives success
The success of the QMS requires the active participation of all personnel – including contractors – and development of a culture of shared values and behaviors around quarantine.
“For the QMS to be effective, we must also win the hearts and minds of those who will never see the island,” said van der Merwe.
Quarantine training is mandatory, encompassing the island’s unique environment, prevention strategies, response capabilities and individual responsibilities. A quarantine handbook for visitors to the island even addresses obscure questions about allowing guitars, protein powders and loose tea on the island. Detection successes have included a germinating grass seed discovered in an excavator radiator, a frog hidden in a tarpaulin and a live gecko in a tennis racquet cover.
sharing best practices
Chevron is sharing the QMS with organizations worldwide to help stem the global threat to biodiversity from invasive species. The company has advised the U.S. Department of Defense about effective quarantine measures and collaborated with the Australian Antarctic Division to refine quarantine procedures for scientists and tourists visiting Antarctica.
“Exploration increasingly takes us into remote and sensitive areas,” said van der Merwe. “What we have achieved on Barrow Island helps support Chevron’s endeavors to unlock future potential, particularly in locations with high conservation values.”
Published: November 2014