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CSIRO told to withdraw acid emission recommendation for Burrup Peninsula

An engraving of a sea turtle on the Burrup Peninsula, Western . Photo: Ken Mulvaney Senior cultural ranger at Murujuga National Park, Jakari Togo, looks out to sea next to rock carvings on the Burrup Peninsula. Photo: n Geographic

A Senate hearing on Friday was told that the CSIRO should withdraw its recommended maximum acid emission levels for rock art on the Burrup Peninsula, as the science on which it is based “isn’t appropriate”.

The Senate environment committee also heard from a former CSIRO deputy divisional chief that the world’s largest collection of rock art “will be destroyed” by current levels of acid emissions by local industry.

Johan Kuylenstierna from the Stockholm Environment Institute told the Senate that a paragraph using his research to set acid deposition levels at 200 milliequivalents per square metre per year “should be withdrawn” by the CSIRO.

Dr Melita Keywood from the CSIRO told the Senate committee that using Dr Kuylestierna’s research in a 2008 report was “the best information we had at the time”.

However, Dr Kuylenstierna told the Senate that his research “cannot be used to say anything about the rocks where the rock art is carved”.

The author of the 2008 CSIRO report, Rob Gillett, did not give evidence to the Senate committee.

Fairfax Media asked the CSIRO if it would withdraw their assessment given the evidence from Dr Kuylenstierna.

A CSIRO spokesman replied: “The project reports … were reviewed by a panel of international experts prior to publication and were positively received. The review and update of the scientific design is a normal part of scientific endeavour.”

However, the CSIRO has offered no update to their recommendation.

The Senate committee on environment and communications is investigating, in part, “the accuracy and adequacy of reports used by the Western n and Commonwealth governments” used to regulate industry near the Aboriginal rock art. The Burrup, near Karratha in Western , has liquefied natural gas, iron ore shipping and fertiliser production facilities on the peninsula.

An ammonia nitrate facility is about to begin production, which will increase acid deposition in the area.

The Burrup Peninsula is on the National Heritage register and is home to more than a million Aboriginal rock carvings, some dating back more than 30,000 years. The art is part of the living culture of the local Aboriginal community, which is represented by the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation.

Dr John Black, a former assistant divisional chief of the CSIRO who a member of Friends of n Rock Art, told the Senate committee: “I honestly believe the level of acidity [from industry] that is proposed will destroy the rock art.”

The Senate hearing also heard from former Greens leader, Christine Milne, representing the Bob Brown Foundation.

She said that the CSIRO must now be regarded as “a gun for hire”.

“[The CSIRO is] doing the work for industry because industry paid … whoever pays the piper calls the tune,” she said.

Ms Milne said: “For the CSIRO to have taken the WA Government commission to protect the art and sit there and say they used the best estimation when it is irrelevant is an indictment on the CSIRO.”

A CSIRO spokesman said: “CSIRO carried out the work for the WA government. Partners can pay for the science but not for the results. Science calls the tune.”

Senator Rachel Siewert asked representatives from the federal Department of Environment and Energy if they had discussed with the CSIRO why the CSIRO had not taken any measurements of acid buffering capacity of the rocks.

Matt Cahill, first assistant secretary of the department, said the department would seek an explanation from CSIRO in light of this evidence.

Orica , which jointly owns a soon-to-be opened ammonium nitrate plant on the Burrup, said it was comfortable relying on CSIRO’s recommendation for acid deposition.

An Orica spokeswoman said: “Given the CSIRO is the n government’s pre-eminent scientific organisation it is completely natural that we have confidence in their capability.”

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