Lawyers claiming gas project in WA will affect Great Barrier Reef in Qld

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.

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.”

Woodside’s Scarborough gas project includes the expansion of the current Pluto facility on the Burrup Peninsula.Delivered: Woodside

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.

A close-up of bleached coral.
Coral on the Great Barrier Reef in 2020, after a major bleaching event.Delivered: ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

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.

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