Australia’s largest carbon offset project through a forest carbon sink is off to a great start. The team from Woodside’s Pluto LNG recently surveyed the 17,125 hectares of trees that will offset their greenhouse gas emissions and reported that they are healthy and growing quickly.
The first trees were planted in 2008 and 2009 as part of a $25 million agreement over 50 years with CO2 Australia. A $75 million extension to the program began in 2009 and planting finished last year. In all, over 26 million Blue Mallee trees have been planted to date. CO2 Australia chose the Blue Mallee because they grow effectively even in drought conditions, resist serious fire damage and build extensive underground root systems that store significant amounts of carbon.
The team of four Woodside employees, CO2 Australia staff and an independent forester inspected the sites in Western Australia and New South Wales to determine the progress of the project. All reports say that not only are the trees growing rapidly, but they are providing numerous other benefits to the environment and to landowners in the area. Environment adviser Heather Norman said “It’s clear CO2 Australia’s work on their properties is impacting on adjacent properties in a positive way.”
Beyond offsetting tonnes of carbon emissions, the environmental benefits of the massive program include reduction of erosion, lowering of salinity levels in the groundwater, provision of wildlife corridors between protected areas and the creation of new habitats for local animals. In fact, the Pluto LNG trees are already acting as important shelter for the Splendid Parrot, a species currently listed as endangered.
The carbon forestry initiative is also providing real benefits to farming communities in the vicinity. Because the plantings have mostly taken place in extremely isolated areas, these farmers currently have access to very few resources. CO2 Australia has brought in extensive watering facilities which locals have been able to take advantage of. Fire fighting equipment, including tanks and vehicles, has been brought in to protect the investment and provides security to the entire community. The large plots of trees also provide wind shelter, which helps nearby farmland produce greater yields. Additionally, many of the farmers have struck deals with Pluto LNG to grow the trees on portions of their land and are already experiencing significant benefits.
The plantings were divided between 11 Western Australia properties and 16 properties in New South Wales in order to minimise any risk from of drought and fire. Additionally, by spreading the planting out, the risk of any single natural disaster having a dramatic impact on the program is limited. And because of the Blue Mallee Tree’s resilience, much of the land was previously seen to be unusable. Now this land is helping to diminish the effects of carbon emissions and providing numerous benefits to the community.