Federal court has been asked to halt Woodside Energy’s Scarborough gas project until its impact on the Great Barrier Reef has been assessed under environmental laws.
The Australian Conservation Foundation is fighting the $16.5 billion project in court, calling it a “climate bomb” that will amplify damage from climate change, including repeated coral bleaching.
Woodside plans to exploit gas fields for Western Australia. Still, ACF says that the project has not been approved under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act because it will take place offshore.
It says the law includes an exemption for projects like Scarborough under review by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).
But it says the exemption won’t apply if an offshore project is likely to significantly impact the reef’s world or national heritage values, something ACF will try to prove in court.
“If it continues, the Scarborough gas mine and its extension to Pluto will produce massive amounts of climate-warming gas through 2055,” said ACF chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy.
“We will demonstrate to a federal court that Scarborough will likely significantly impact the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef if it goes through.”
The case was filed at the Federal Court in Melbourne on Tuesday.
ACF says a win could set an important precedent to affect how other projects are judged.
Late Tuesday, Woodside confirmed that ACF had filed for a court order to restrict offshore activities related to the project.
It said Scarborough had been the subject of rigorous environmental assessments by various regulators, including NOPSEMA, the federal environmental agency, and the WA’s Environmental Protection Authority.
“The Scarborough project is underway and on track after receiving all primary environmental approvals,” Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill said in a statement.
“Woodside will vigorously defend its position in these proceedings.”
It is not the first legal challenge Scarborough faces. Earlier this year, Western Australia’s Conservation Council lost a Supreme Court request to overturn the project’s environmental approvals.
Before the court dismissed the challenge, WA Prime Minister Mark McGowan noted that his administration could intervene if the lawsuit jeopardized the state’s energy supplies.
The Scarborough field, about 375 kilometers off the WA coast, contains an estimated 11.1 trillion cubic feet of gas that will be transported via a 430-kilometer pipeline to the mainland to the Pluto LNG plant.
Much of the gas will be exported, but some will supply domestic markets.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was asked if he’s comfortable with the Scarborough project, as climate scientists call for an immediate halt to new fossil fuel projects.
“I feel comfortable making sure that over time we move in an orderly manner (and) restore our environment by cutting emissions and go to net zero by 2050,” he said.
“That’s a goal shared by companies like Woodside, BHP, and Rio Tinto. In the meantime, we have to ensure people have access to energy.”
Last year, a report from the Conservation Council of Western Australia and The Australia Institute found that the project would release 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gases, or the equivalent of 15 coal-fired power plants, during its lifetime.
But Woodside disputes that, saying the total emissions from scopes one and three will be significantly less.