Environment groups have demanded Western Australia premier Mark McGowan clarify his position on a massive $16 billion gas development after suggesting he may intervene to protect the project from a legal challenge to its environmental approvals.
Earlier this week, oil and gas giant Woodside announced that it had made a final investment decision to proceed with the Scarborough gas development to become one of Australia’s largest fossil fuel projects, despite the project not yet securing all necessary approvals.
So excited by the prospect that Australia may have yet another major fossil fuel project under development, prime minister Scott Morrison said that he had done a “did a bit of a jig” in response to Woodside’s announcement that it would green-light the project.
Environmental activists blocked access to Woodside facilities following the announcement, but environment groups expressed surprise at suggestions that McGowan would intervene to prevent the project being blocked through more ‘conventional’ means, including legal action.
The Conservation Council of WA has launched a legal challenge to environmental approvals issued to the project, arguing that the Environmental Protection Authority that approved the project, did so incorrectly by not requiring the project to prepare a full environmental impact assessment.
The legal challenge is expected to be heard in December, but on Wednesday, McGowan said that should the approvals get struck down, his government would intervene to ensure the gas development proceeded.
“We can’t have scores of industries close down because of a court ruling, so the state government will do what it has to do to make sure industries stay open,” McGowan said.
Other industries or other projects have received approvals that this might have an implication for.”
A spokesperson for the Conservation Council of WA called on McGowan to clarify the remarks, suggesting that McGowan could be undermining the state’s environmental laws.
“We have taken this legal action in good faith. CCWA is simply trying to ensure that the law is followed by Woodside and the State Government when it comes to environmental assessment of this project,” the council spokesperson said.
“All we are asking is that the environmental impacts of this development are assessed according to the requirements of the law, like any other major project in WA.”
“This is essential so that the environmental impacts can be understood, and responsible decisions can be made by the state, by investors, by Traditional Owners and by the broader community,” the spokesperson added.
The Scarborough project, and its associated Pluto Train 2 processing facility, is expected to produce as much as eight million tonnes of LNG annually, becoming one of Australia’s largest fossil fuel projects.
The project was being jointly developed by Woodside and BHP, but BHP’s share of the project will be absorbed into Woodside, as part of a $41 billion merger of the company’s oil and gas businesses.
The project is expected to have a significant greenhouse gas footprint in Australia due to fugitive emissions released during the transport and processing of gas, in addition to the substantial contributions the gas will have to global emissions once burnt.
Following Woodside’s announcement earlier in the week, shareholder advocacy group Market Forces said that the “fight had just begun” over the Scarborough project, which it described as a “carbon bomb.”
“The Scarborough-Pluto project could release as much carbon as 15 coal power stations running for 30 years. If Woodside, BHP, and their investors think the community will stand idly by while they detonate the biggest oil and gas carbon bomb currently proposed in Australia, they are sorely mistaken,” Market Forces campaigner Will van de Pol said.
“The project’s regulatory approvals are in a mess, and it is already facing multiple legal challenges. Meanwhile, Woodside has been forced to take on an immense amount of risk to convince partners to get on board.”
“[The] announcement will only galvanise and spur further action from the organisations and community members that are coming together to keep Scarborough gas in the ground.”