Woodside off to court as green group launches legal challenge of Burrup hub approvals

The Conservation Council of WA is taking Woodside and Western Australia’s environmental regulator to court to overturn changes to Burrup Hub approvals it says contravene the state’s Environmental Protection Act.

CCWA will challenge recent changes to approvals granted by WA’s Environmental Protection Authority that allow for Woodside’s Karratha and Pluto gas plants in the Pilbara to produce gas from the Scarborough and Browse fields.

The Burrup Hub mega-project encompasses tapping Browse and Scarborough, expanding and connecting Pluto and North West Shelf plants to process the gas, and connecting it all via pipelines.
The Burrup Hub mega-project encompasses tapping Browse and Scarborough, expanding and connecting Pluto and North West Shelf plants to process the gas, and connecting it all via pipelines. Credit:Woodside

The changes are key aspects of the $50 billion Burrup Hub vision to keep gas flowing through the plants as existing deposits on the North West Shelf dry up, and ensure the company continues operating in WA until at least 2070.

The approvals were granted without community consultation under section 45 of the Act because the EPA considered them to have minimal environmental impacts – a decision rejected by CCWA and its lawyers, who said the hub, collectively, would produce 6 billion tonnes of carbon pollution over its 50-year lifespan.


Last year, CCWA requested the EPA revisit the decision because of the billions of tonnes of additional carbon pollution and the impact on rock art on the Burrup Peninsula.

That request was rejected, which CCWA executive director Piers Verstegen said left them with no choice but to take the matter to court.

“It has taken nearly a year for the EPA to come to a decision about these referrals, finally confirming only recently that our referrals would not be accepted by the EPA because the approvals had already been given under [section 45] and they could not assess something that had already been approved,” he said.

Mr Verstegen said it appeared the EPA had assessed the pollution from the extension of the Karratha and Pluto gas plants on an annual basis rather than cumulative life of the projects.

“The EPA have not denied that there will be far more carbon pollution released into the atmosphere over the life of the projects as a result of these approvals, due to processing huge amounts of additional gas over a much longer timeframe than was originally anticipated when the Pluto and NWS LNG facilities were approved,” he said.

The EPA has taken the position that the changes cannot be reversed by the authority once put in place, without the agreement of Woodside, and that they effectively now prevent the environmental assessment of the changes.

“They have advised us that a court determination would be required to invalidate the section 45 approvals, which would then allow for a full environmental assessment to occur,” Mr Verstegen said.

The CCWA has hired the Environmental Defenders Office to represent them in the case. The EDO has been involved in cases against coal miner Adani and consulted on the successful fight to stop the Subsea7 pipeline through the Ningaloo Marine Park.

EDO managing lawyer Tim Macknay said the public had no idea how much gas would be processed through the facilities, nor the overall amount of emissions likely to be created.

“We will argue the government made an error by not applying the correct test in deciding whether the changes might have environmental impacts requiring further assessments,” he said.

“Our client has engaged in good faith with the EPA and Woodside for over a year on this issue, and is now left with no choice but to apply to the Supreme Court in their stand for due process and transparency.”

The Burrup Hub is a gas processing project Woodside hopes will secure its future in the state but questions remain over whether any of it will get off the ground as plummeting energy prices eat away at the economics of the project.

A decision on the Scarborough portion of the hub has been pushed until next year, while Browse has been shunted to 2023.

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