Work has started on the Perdaman fertiliser plant on the Burrup Peninsula near Karratha in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.
The project, which has received around $530 million in government subsidies, will emit more carbon dioxide than the new Safeguard Mechanism is expected to save.
The urea plant was given the go-ahead by Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek last August, despite objections from Traditional Owners and environmentalists.
According to Climate Analytics, the WA and federal governments have provided Perdaman with $530 million in public subsidies, largely in the form of large infrastructure projects, such as a new wharf at Dampier Port.
Three pieces of ancient rock art are being relocated to make way for the plant.
At the ground-breaking ceremony on April 26, Premier Mark McGowan said the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC), which covers five local language groups, had given approval. “The local Aboriginal Corporation and Traditional Owners have approved the project under the way the law works.”
But, as MAC makes clear, it has freehold title to the national park next to the industrial sites on the Burrup Peninsula but it does not have the power to stop or amend projects going ahead in the so-called Burrup Strategic Industrial Area.
MAC chair and Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo representative Peter Hicks said at the same ceremony: “It’s been a difficult time for our elders, the MAC board, directors and our members of the broader Aboriginal community.”
Traditional Custodian and Ngarluma Elder Robyn Churnside said she is “very disappointed” the Perdaman project and rock art removals have been permitted.
“I oppose the removal of three rock art sites which are sacred sovereign lore sitting on our Murujuga ngurra. These three rocks are connected on sovereign land to our ceremony and the circle of life.”
Plibersek rejected an application by some local Traditional Owners to stop the petroglyphs from being removed.
The Perdaman urea plant is expected to use 130 terajoules of gas from Woodside’s Scarborough Gas Project once it opens. The two companies have signed a 20-year contract.
Some 2500 jobs will be created during the construction phase, after which just 200 people will be employed by the fertiliser plant.