Environmentalists in new bid to block WA’s huge Scarborough gas project

Headshot of Sean Smith
Sean SmithThe West Australian
The proposed Scarborough project would add to Woodside Energy’s production interests on the North West Shelf.
Camera IconThe proposed Scarborough project would add to Woodside Energy’s production interests on the North West Shelf. Credit: csfoto/Always credit 'csfoto - Christia

Environmentalists have launched another legal bid to block Woodside Energy’s $US12 billion ($16.5b) Scarborough gas development off north-west WA.

The Australian Conservation Foundation on Tuesday launched Federal Court proceedings in Victoria seeking to stop work on Scarborough under federal environmental laws until an assessment of its potential impact on the Great Barrier Reef across the other side of the country.

Woodside said it would oppose the action, noting the development, which was given the green light by the company in November, had already been assessed and approved by a range of regulators, including the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the WA Environmental Protection Authority.

“The Scarborough project is underway and proceeding to schedule after receiving all primary environmental approvals,” Woodside chief executive Meg O’Neill said in the Woodside statement.

“The project will deliver significant local and national benefits in the form of employment, tax revenue and reliable gas supply in the energy transition for decades to come,” Ms O’Neill said.

“Woodside will vigorously defend its position in these proceedings.”

The project has already fought off two challenges linked to the project from the WA Conservation Council, which argued in the Supreme Court that the EPA had not properly assessed the environmental risks associated with Woodside developing new gas fields off northern WA. The challenges, argued by the Environmental Defenders Office, were rejected by the court in March.

Offshore projects such as Scarborough, in remote waters nearly off Karratha, are not subject to the national Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act unless they are likely to have a significant impact on the World or National Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.

The ACF, which will also be represented by the Environmental Defenders Officer, said on Tuesday that the gas emissions generated by Scarborough were likely to have a major impact on the reef by fuelling coral bleaching.

It argues that therefore the project should not be allowed to proceed unless it is approved under the EPBC Act.

“We will demonstrate to the Federal Court that Scarborough is likely to have a significant impact on the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef if it proceeds,” ACF chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said.

“If successful, the case will be highly influential in establishing that all new fossil fuel projects must be assessed for the climate damage they would cause if they went ahead,” she said.

“We expect any assessment will show new coal and gas does not stack up environmentally.”

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