Conservationists are launching a federal court challenge against a major gas project off Western Australia’s coast. Campaigners insist the plan would be, in their words, a “really, really big carbon bomb,” although the company involved says it has passed rigorous environmental scrutiny.
The Scarborough gas field is a natural gas field located in the Indian Ocean, hundreds of kilometers off Australia’s west coast.
Woodside Energy, an Australian company, wants to set up drilling platforms in the ocean to extract the natural gas from the untapped gas fields and send it by pipeline to a liquefied natural gas processing plant near the city of Karratha, in Western Australia.
Most of the liquified natural gas would be exported to Asia.
Woodside Energy says the project has “been the subject of rigorous environmental assessments by a range of regulators.” In a statement, the company’s chief executive, Meg O’Neill, said the plan would boost jobs, tax revenues and ensure gas supplies’ reliability.
O’Neill said the company would “vigorously defend its position” in legal proceedings in Australia’s federal court.
The case has been brought by the Australian Conservation Foundation. It is an unusual legal challenge because campaigners have argued that the Western Australia gas project would damage the Great Barrier Reef, 3,000 kilometers away, on the other side of the country.
According to court documents, estimated emissions from the project would cause global temperatures to increase by almost 0.0004 degrees Celsius. Conservationists believe this would “result in the deaths of millions of corals” due to warmer ocean temperatures.
The ACF has applied for an injunction against Woodside Energy's Scarborough gas project. It wants it to stop until the new federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, can assess whether it would harm the Great Barrier Reef by exacerbating climate change.
ACF Chief Executive Kelly O’Shanassy wants the government to reconsider the plan’s approval process.
“It, sort of, went through a bit of a loophole in national environmental law and what we want the courts to do is to pull that project back and say, no, it needs to be assessed for its climate impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. That is the heart of the legal case,” said O’Shanassy.
Although committed to renewable energy, the recently elected center-left government in Canberra has said it would support fossil fuel projects that “stack up environmentally and then commercially.”
Australians have been warned of winter blackouts as an electricity shortage hits the heavily populated east coast. Various factors have caused the energy crisis, including unprecedented wet weather and a recent cold snap in eastern Australia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has prompted a surge in global demand for fossil fuels. There have also been outages at Australia’s aging local coal-burning power stations.
The United Nations is assessing the impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as localized threats, including pollution and over-fishing.
Arguably Australia’s greatest natural treasure, the reef runs 2,300 kilometers down its northeastern coast and spans an area about the size of Japan.