Kimberley fracker fined for greenwashing with net-zero claims

Black Mountain Energy, which plans controversial hydraulic fracturing to export gas from the Kimberley, has been fined by the corporate regulator for allegedly false and misleading claims it would achieve net-zero emissions.

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission fined the ASX-listed company almost $40,000 for greenwashing – the practice of claiming to be doing more to protect the environment than you really are.

Large-scale gas production from the  Kimberley would likely need an expensive pipeline to a gas export plant to be viable.
Large-scale gas production from the Kimberley would likely need an expensive pipeline to a gas export plant to be viable.

ASIC issued three infringement notices related to Black Mountain presentations to investors from December 2021 to September 2022 that claimed its Project Valhalla gas project would have net-zero emissions.

In the September presentation, Black Mountain said it would develop its Kimberley gas it calls Project Valhalla “with (a) net-zero carbon emissions approach.”

“ASIC was concerned that BME either did not have a reasonable basis to make the representations, or that the representations were factually incorrect,” the regulator’s statement on Thursday said.

Black Mountain said it elected to pay the penalty on Tuesday on a “no-admissions” basis and would not be regarded as having contravened the ASIC Act.

On Thursday, its website still said its goal was “developing zero carbon emission natural gas as (a) transition fuel to power a net-zero energy future”

“We aim to develop Project Valhalla as a net-zero emissions natural gas operation once in production,” it said.

“This net-zero mandate incorporates all Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions.”


Black Mountain has been asked whether it stood by these claims or would remove them from its site and is yet to respond.

Environs Kimberley director Martin Pritchard said he was disappointed in the small penalty, “especially as it comes in the midst of record flooding in the Kimberley, made worse by the burning of fossil fuels like gas”.

“This is yet another opportunity for WA Premier Mark McGowan and his ministers to put an end to the threat of fracking in the Kimberley,” he said.

“They know the gas fracking industry would ruin the $500 million tourism industry which is based on the world-famous natural and cultural landscapes of the internationally renowned region.”

In September, Black Mountain’s executive chair Rhett Bennett, who owns about 80 per cent of the company, said approval from the WA government to export gas received a few months before its December 2021 listing on the ASX was a “key milestone”.

WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook said at the time the exemption from the ban on exporting onshore gas recognised Valhalla’s remote location.

“I also recognise the potential benefits the project offers for the Kimberley and the broader WA community through regional jobs and business opportunities, royalties and domestic gas supply,” Cook said.

A Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation spokeswoman justified the exemption with the potential for Black Mountain to build a pipeline that could be the foundation for the further development of the Canning Basin.

ASIC deputy chair Sarah Court said the regulator issued eight infringement notices for alleged greenwashing in 2022.

“ASIC will continue to closely monitor sustainability claims and take action where we consider representations cannot be substantiated or are factually incorrect,” she said.

Environmental groups are also pursuing greenwashing claims through the courts. Santos has been sued by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility after it said it had a plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.

Santos documents revealed by the court discovery process included descriptions of the net-zero plan as “speculative”, “nominal” and “notional” by employees of the gas company.

Subject to receiving environmental approval Black Mountain it plans to start drilling in 2024 and commence early-stage production two years later, according to its latest investor presentation.

Black Mountain was listed at 20 cents a share and now trades at 3.3 cents.

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