It’s 3,000 kilometers from the Great Barrier Reef, but a gas project in Western Australia could have disastrous consequences for Queensland’s controversial World Heritage Site, a federal court brought in by conservationists has ruled out.
Most important points:
- Woodside Energy’s Scarborough gas project has cleared major state and Commonwealth regulatory hurdles
- The Australian Conservation Foundation says it also needs the approval of the Environment Minister
- Woodside says it will “vigorously defend” its position against lawsuit
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has filed for a ban on Woodside’s Scarborough gas project, asking for a halt until the new federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, assesses whether the operation will harm the Great Barrier Reef by worsening climate change.
ACF chief Kelly O’Shanassy said the west coast project posed a major risk to Australia’s precious World Heritage Site.
“People in Australia would be shocked to know that the Scarborough gas mine being proposed has never been approved under Australia’s environmental law or assessed for its impact. [it] will have in places like the Great Barrier Reef,” said Ms. O’Shanassy.
“It’s a really, really big carbon bomb.”
Woodside said the gas produced by the project would generate enough electricity to power 10 times the number of homes in Perth, with emissions about half of those generated by coal.
In a statement, Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill said:
“The Scarborough project has been the subject of rigorous environmental assessments by a range of regulatory bodies.
“The project will deliver significant local and national benefits in the form of employment, tax revenues and reliable gas supply in the energy transition over the coming decades.
“Woodside will vigorously defend its position in these proceedings.”
According to documents filed with the court, the project’s predicted emissions would raise global temperatures by nearly 0.0004 degrees Celsius, “which will result in the death of millions of corals during any future massive bleaching event.”
ACF also argued that additional warming posed “a real risk” that in turn could set off a spiral of further runaway warming, virtually destroying the Great Barrier Reef.
Any increased warming would result in additional coral death on the Great Barrier Reef, said Selina Ward, a coral reef scientist at the University of Queensland.
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland agreed.
“We are now at a point where every bit of carbon that goes into the atmosphere has a price and that price is increasing day by day,” said Professor Hoegh-Guldberg.
This year, the Great Barrier Reef experienced its sixth mass bleaching event — a phenomenon caused by global warming that had never been seen before 1998.
Scientific arguments similar to those used by ACF were: presented to the Federal Court by a group of young people trying to impose a duty of care on the environment minister to protect them from climate change.
At the time, then Environment Secretary Sussan Ley accepted the scientific arguments, instead disputing their legal implications — an argument she won on appeal.
A spokeswoman for Ms Plibersek said she was unable to comment on the legal challenge from Woodside’s Scarborough gas project as the matter was in court.
But the new Resources Minister, Madeleine King, has backed the project, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said the government will support fossil fuel projects that “pile up the environment and then commercially”.
Woodside project not approved by minister
Woodside plans to open the new Scarborough gas field, lay approximately 430km of gas pipelines on the seabed and significantly expand the existing liquefaction facility, known as “Pluto”, near Karratha in Western Australia.
The project has received the key environmental approvals from state and federal governmentsand last year Woodside announced that a final investment decision had been made to move the project forward.
The federal environmental assessment was conducted by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), rather than the Secretary of the Environment, under decentralized powers given to the agency.
All offshore projects would normally be assessed by NOPSEMA.
However, projects that could have a significant impact on the Great Barrier Reef cannot be assessed by NOPSEMA alone and must be fully assessed by the Secretary of State for the Environment.
As a result, the Environmental Defenders Office, on behalf of ACF, argued that if the project went ahead, it would happen without the required approvals.
Emission ‘higher’ than claimed
According to Woodside, the project will create up to 3,200 jobs and “nearly” 600 ongoing jobs during construction.
But Bill Hare, a scientist with the consultancy Climate Analytics, said the company’s emissions figures ignored emissions from the existing LNG facilities at the site.
He said emissions would actually be about 40 percent higher — nearly 1.4 billion tons.
Most of those emissions would occur when the gas was burned — much of which would take place abroad.
But according to Mr Hare, the project would contribute 41 million tons of Australia’s domestic emissions by 2030.
He said this was about 7 percent of our emissions in 2005 — the baseline Australia has now set to cut emissions to 43 percent lower.
Woodside has said his estimate of 878 million tonnes of emissions is a figure accepted by Australian regulators.
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