Environmental groups have slammed the announcement by oil and gas giant Woodside that it will proceed with its Scarborough and Pluto 2 projects, set to become one of Australia’s largest LNG developments.
Woodside announced that it had reached a final investment decision on its share of the project, expected to cost US$6.9 billion (A$9.6 billion), with most of the gas destined for export markets, prompting the reaction from groups who say the projects are incompatible with global efforts to address climate change.
The announcements that Woodside intends to proceed with the development, made before it had secured all its necessary environmental and planning approvals, has been slammed by environmental groups that decried the further expansion of fossil fuel extraction and the broader ecological threats the projects pose.
“Public outrage at what Woodside has planned – the threats to whales, the marine environment, the WA coastline and the climate – will continue to grow,” said Greenpeace Australia CEO David Ritter.
“For so long as the company persists on this course, the corporate name of Woodside will become synonymous with the destruction of everything that Australians hold dear.”
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility said that while announcing that it would proceed with the Scarborough project, Woodside had misrepresented the project’s ability to replace coal with lower emissions gas.
Woodside management told an investor presentation on Monday that the gas produced by the project would “assist coal-to-gas switching in Asia”, but ACCR disputed this, saying there was no evidence that gas was being used as a direct alternative to coal.
“Woodside’s failure to mention climate change or emissions in its 4-page media release announcing the project tells you everything you need to know about the company,” ACCR’s director of climate and environment, Dan Gocher, said.
“Woodside falsely claims that LNG supplied from Pluto “will assist [its] customers to achieve their decarbonisation goals”. This is a blatantly misleading claim for which no credible evidence has ever been provided.”
“Any assumption by Woodside that the climate movement will abandon its opposition to the Scarborough project now that FID has been reached is sorely misplaced. Post-COP26, activists committed to a safe climate will only become more determined,” Gocher added.
Seemingly pre-empting the response, Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill sought to play down the greenhouse gas emissions impact of the development by pointing to the low carbon dioxide content of the gas reserves at Scarborough. This ignores the fact, however, that the project is primarily a fossil fuel project and the bulk of its emissions footprint will be created through the burning of gas extracted from the project.
“The Scarborough reservoir contains only around 0.1% carbon dioxide, and Scarborough gas processed through the efficient and expanded Pluto LNG facility supports the decarbonisation goals of our customers in Asia,” O’Neill said.
But the carbon dioxide contained within the reservoir is a minor component of the project’s overall emissions footprint, with Woodside saying that it has secured agreements to allow it to produce as much as 8 million tonnes annually of LNG as part of the project – which will lead to millions of tonnes of emissions by Woodside’s own analysis.
With the project expected to operate well after 2050, it will lead to a significant increase in global emissions at a time when the International Energy Agency has said that the development of new fossil fuel projects is incompatible with efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
Ritter added that Woodside was acting like environmental “vandals” for proceeding with the project.
“The International Energy Agency, one of the world’s most conservative energy bodies, has said that there should be no new coal or gas projects, and yet here is Woodside, like a bunch of vandals in the night, trying to rush this monstrous project through. Woodside is treating Australians, and in particular the people of Western Australia, with contempt,” Ritter added.
An analysis produced by the Carbon Tracker Initiative finds that the expansion plans of companies like Woodside are largely incompatible with global goals to limit global warming to safer levels, with Woodside’s plans in particular, inconsistent with a global warming pathway that would significantly exceed 2.7 degrees of global warming.
The Conservation Council of WA criticised Woodside’s decision to proceed, given the number of development approvals that have yet to be resolved, labelling Woodside as “arrogant”.
“Woodside’s approach towards environmental approvals has been highly arrogant,” CCWA policy and legal director Piers Verstegen said.
“The company has tried to cut corners and avoid due process while taking regulators for granted. Ultimately this approach has increased risk by exposing decisions to legal challenge and failing to address fundamental concerns such as the very high carbon pollution and impacts to ancient Aboriginal heritage.”
Woodside’s final investment decision for the Scarborough and Pluto Train developments coincided with the company signing off on a planned merger with BHP’s oil and gas businesses, establishing Woodside as the largest energy company listed on the ASX.
The merger will allow BHP to offload the bulk of its remaining fossil fuel assets, while establishing Woodside as a $41 billion pure-play fossil fuel giant.
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