Scheme to paint the red centre green

Could a plantation scheme announced by Central Petroleum yesterday illuminate a pathway for the resources sector to reduce its environmental footprint and boost regional employment?

Perth-based hydrocarbon explorer Central Petroleum yesterday announced a 10-year plan to plant drought-resistant hybrid eucalyptus saplings across 100,000 hectares of Central Australian desert.

The company, through its subsidiary Central Green, has already begun the first trial plantings of the trees at Ilpurla and Tempe Downs, around 250 km southwest of Alice Springs.

An area near the town of Ali Curang, 350 km north of Alice Springs, has been selected for additional plantings later this month.

Central Petroleum said the program would also depend on economic analysis, regulatory regime maturation and government assistance.

According to the company, the program aims to increase the in-ground carbon storage profile of the arid areas and provide a natural carbon credit offset against future production.

Central Petroleum area operations manager Doug White said the trees planted Ali Curang were expected to do well, thanks to the area’s relatively high water table.

“The local community that took over caring for the trial plantings at Ilpurla, delivered a tremendous outcome,” he said.

“Those trees may start providing residents with an additional source of income in as little as seven to eight years.”

According to Central Petroleum land access manager Bob Liddle, the program secure long-term source of income for the many of the residents of Central Australia.

“The program may provide employment and training for dozens of jobless or vulnerable Indigenous youths,” he said.

“As well as making absolute sense environmentally, we think this is an optimal contribution we can make for our Indigenous neighbours, with whom we have worked on a number of our projects.

“With Commonwealth support for Aboriginal communities shrinking and the growing drift of people from rural communities to regional centres, it is essential that resources companies like ours get involved in promoting Indigenous employment in these marginalised areas.”

An Aboriginal elder who supervised the tree-planting at Ilpurla, Barry Abbott, said the project had given his community a new lease of life.

The company hopes the initiative could also help establish a fledgling commercial timber industry for the local communities.

Exploration will recommence in early-December with the drilling of five fully-cored coal seam gas wells in the Pedirka Basin, southeast of Alice Springs.

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