The pending approval for the liquefied natural gas (LNG) hub at James Price Point in Broome has come under fire after four of the five Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) board members responsible for assessing the project stood aside due to conflicts of interest. Two of the EPA board members hold shares in Woodside Petroleum, the operator of the $35 billion project.
Peter Tucker, chair of local campaign group Save the Kimberley, told Green Left Weekly his group was not surprised by the news: “The lack of transparency is what we’ve come to expect in this campaign.”
As a result, the EPA’s recommendation has been delayed. Despite the delay, The Wilderness Society (TWS) said in June: “The public can have no confidence in the EPA’s final report and recommendations”.
It says the EPA has not fully assessed environmental, social and cultural heritage impacts. These include the impacts on endangered species such as whales and dolphins, impacts on cultural heritage sites, and the impacts of dredging, and marine and atmospheric pollution.
Tucker said Save the Kimberley welcomes any delay to the project. He said that regardless of the decision of the Western Australia environment minister, federal environment minister Tony Burke will make the final decision. Tucker said: “We’ve met with [Burke] several times and he’s well-aware of what’s at stake.”
At stake is a wilderness area that will be severely impacted by an industrial project of this size. Research has shown that the area between Broome and Cape Leveque is the key area for calving, resting and breeding humpback whales. The development area contains several registered Aboriginal heritage sites important to the Goolarabaloo traditional owners opposed to the project.
A strong community campaign has been running for more than two years. Local groups and TWS have worked to inform people across Australia about the issue.
Even though Woodside does not yet have permission to start construction, they have been carrying out work on the site. A permanent blockade has run since June 7 to stop machinery and equipment from accessing the site. Tucker told GLW: “Woodside says that all they’re doing is preliminary geotechnical studies. But it’s illegal in our view. What they are actually doing is destroying hectares and hectares of country and showing disrespect to the area.”
Aboriginal landowners took Woodside to the Supreme Court in May, arguing that the approval process was not followed correctly. On July 5 the Supreme Court dismissed the legal action. But Fairfax reported that before the cases was due to be heard on June 24, “WA Planning Minister John Day amended the planning regulations in the area, permitting Woodside to continue works, even if they were found to be invalid”.
Even if both state and federal environment ministers approve the project, the joint venture partners will still need to make a final decision about their investment early next year.
One of the biggest supporters of the project is the WA Premier, Colin Barnett, who is also Minister for State Development. There are seven joint venture partners: Woodside, Shell, BP, BHP, Chevron, Mitsubishi and Mitsui. Woodside holds the biggest share.
This huge project is part of the Australia’s “gas rush”, a rush the federal government’s carbon price is designed to stimulate.
If this project is approved and built then it is likely to open the door for further industrialisation of the Kimberley. However, The Australian said on July 6 that a report by investment bank Citi put the project’s cost at $45 billion, $10 billion more than now estimated. Citi also said the project is unlikely to be approved in the next year.
With growing awareness of climate change and the growth in the renewable energy sector, fossil fuel companies have a narrowing window of opportunity to build big fossil fuel projects such as this one. If the project is hit with delays from the strong community campaign against it, and if the cost to build it rises, it is possible to defeat it.