The Conservation Council of WA today launched legal action against Woodside and the WA Government that could stop the proposed Scarborough and Browse LNG projects.

CCWA director Piers Verstegen said the environmental organisation had lodged papers with the Supreme Court to initiate the action and Woodside and the WA Government would be served today.

Woodside plans to pipe gas 1000km from the Browse fields to the North West LNG plant near Karratha and build an additional LNG train at the nearby Pluto LNG plant to process gas from the Scarborough field.

The developments, termed the Burrup Hub by Woodside, are the long-term future for the Perth-based LNG specialist.

There are serious doubts about the viability of Browse and Woodside is focussed on a final investment decision for the $US11.4 billion ($15.2 billion) Scarborough project in the second half of 2021.

Verstegen said the Burrup Hub was the most polluting fossil fuel project ever proposed in Australia and the CCWA was acting to prevent carbon pollution and impacts to Aboriginal heritage values on the Burrup Peninsula.

“Documents released under Freedom of Information reveal that the impacts of pollution from processing the new gas - either on the climate or Murujuga rock art - were not assessed when the approvals were granted,” Verstegen said.

Verstegen said Woodside’s current approvals remained valid while the legal action that he expected to take six to 12 months played out.

However, Verstegen said Woodside would be taking a significant risk approving projects until the legal uncertainty was resolved and the company needed to be cautious with the information it supplied to investors.

Environmental Defenders Office managing lawyer Tim Macknay and CCWA director Piers Verstegen outside the WA Supreme Court
Environmental Defenders Office managing lawyer Tim Macknay and CCWA director Piers Verstegen. Source:CCWA

If the action were successful, Woodside’s plans would likely be reopened for public reviews that would cause further delays with no certainty of approval.

Boiling Cold understands the CCWA’s legal action is challenging changes to the environmental conditions imposed on the Pluto and North West Shelf LNG plants by the State government that are documented in ministerial statements.

Section 45C of the Environmental Protection Act allows the Environment Minister to approve changes to the conditions without a review by the Environmental Protection Authority unless the changes might “might have a significant detrimental effect on the environment in addition to…the original proposal.”

In July 2019 Ministerial Statement 757 that covers the Pluto project was changed under section 45C to remove references to what gas fields were to supply the Pluto LNG plant, effectively allowing the facility to take gas from the Scarborough field.

At the same time Ministerial Statement 536 for the North West Shelf project was revised to allow the plant to process gas from any source.

Environmental Defenders Office managing lawyer Tim Macknay who is acting for the CCWA said the lack of assessment meant the public did not know how much gas the plants would process and what the total emissions would be.

“We will argue the government made an error by not applying the correct test in deciding whether the changes might have environmental impacts requiring further assessments,” Macknay said.

“Our client has engaged in good faith with the EPA and Woodside for over a year on this issue and is now left with no choice but to apply to the Supreme Court in their stand for due process and transparency.”

The legal action also threatens plans for the North West Shelf LNG plant to process gas from Pluto, and Mitsui and Beach Energy’s Waitsia field in the Perth Basin.

Beach Energy said in November that it was on track to sanction Waitsia this year.

The agreements to allow Pluto and Waitsia gas to use the North West Shelf facility are also due to be signed this month.

Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman said in a statement that the company intended to defend its position vigorously.

“The CCWA is resorting to a legal challenge a year and a half after the approvals were granted,” Coleman said.

“Their action will cost taxpayers money and flies in the face of the EPA’s independent assessment.

“We strongly support the State Government’s and the EPA’s processes,” he said.

Woodside disputed claims about its project’s greenhouse gas emission made by the CCWA and said the use of its gas instead of coal reduces emissions.

The CCWA needs $200,000 to fund the legal action, according to a fundraising email sent to supporters today.

“There are high costs and big risks in taking this legal action,” the email stated.


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Update: 23 December: added reference to Ministerial Statement 536 for the North West Shelf project


Main image: Woodside headquarters Mia Yellagonga in Perth. Source: Woodside Energy Limited