Woodside Petroleum has been told it must steer clear of fossilised dinosaur footprints if it goes ahead with building its $30 billion gas development in Western Australia's Kimberley region.
The advice from WA's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) came as the watchdog gave a green light to the controversial project - as long as 29 strict conditions for the development of the site at James Price Point are met.
The conditions aim to protect fossilised dinosaur tracks near the site, 60km north of Broome, as well as marine life in the waters off the coast.
The WA government will consider the EPA's recommendations before making a final decision on the project.
EPA chairman Dr Paul Vogel, who was the only EPA board member to assess the project, said the approval process was the largest and most complex yet carried out by the EPA.
"Creating any industrial undertaking, particularly one of this magnitude, will have an environmental impact, however these impacts and risks can be managed to an acceptable level," he said in a statement on Monday.
Woodside is planning one of the world's biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing plants at James Price Point, where up to 50 million tonnes of LNG a year from the Browse basin will be produced.
Opponents argue the gas hub will destroy James Price Point's cultural and environmental integrity and transform the tourist town into an expensive resources centre.
Environmentalists and leading paleontologist, The University of Queensland's Steve Salisbury, also fear that near-shore geotechnical surveys being undertaken by Woodside for the project may encroach on nearby dinosaur tracks.
Most of the footprints are exposed only at extreme low tide in the intertidal zone that marks the boundary of the West Kimberley National Heritage site.
Woodside has argued that the surveying work posed no risk to the dinosaur footprints.
Dr Vogel said the EPA believed that in order to protect the dinosaur prints, the gas development should not cross the shore within 900m of James Price Point.
It also wants extra surveys to be carried out to determine if more dinosaur prints exist.
"If fossils are found, disturbance should be avoided where possible," Dr Vogel said.
"Where disturbance cannot reasonably be avoided, appropriate recovery work to salvage or properly document fossils prior to disturbance should be undertaken under the guidance of an expert and with the advice and participation of traditional owners."
Dr Vogel also admitted that turbidity from dredging, oil spills, industrial discharges, noise, light and vessel strikes could adversely affect whales, dolphins, turtles, dugong and fish.
However, he said the 29 conditions recommended by the EPA would help limit the impact on marine fauna.
Included in the recommendations were limitations on marine pile-driving and blasting to protect humpback whales, plus other measures to protect seabed habitats and monsoon vine thicket vegetation.
Woodside managing director Peter Coleman said he welcomed the EPA's recommendation.
The EPA has recommended a number of conditions for the precinct that Woodside is reviewing.
"We are confident that the social and environmental impacts arising from the development and operation of an LNG precinct on the Dampier Peninsula can be minimised and managed effectively," Mr Coleman said in a statement on Monday.
The EPA's report and recommendations will be considered by the WA and federal environment ministers, who will have the responsibility for making a final decision on the precinct's environmental approval.
Woodside said it remained on track to make a final investment decision some time in the first half of 2013 on the proposed development.
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