Woodside LNG: Australia’s ‘biggest’ contribution to climate crisis a step closer to 50-year extension
WA EPA dismisses most grounds of appeal against extension of operation licence for gas processing facility in the Pilbara One of Australias biggest fossil fuel developments is a step closer to having its life extended for nearly 50 years after Western Australian officials dismissed appeals arguing it should be stopped on climate science and cultural grounds. More than 750 organisations and individuals last year lodged objections to a WA Environment Protection Authority (EPA) recommendation that oil and gas company Woodside be allowed to operate its gas processing facility in the Pilbara until 2070. Documents seen by Guardian Australia show the EPA has largely dismissed the appeals and repeated its recommendation that the North West Shelf liquified natural gas (LNG) processing facility, on the Burrup peninsula , be given an extended licence. Scientists and activists said if the extension was allowed it could lead to the opening of new gas fields, including the proposed Scarborough and Browse reservoirs, to provide the gas to keep the processing plant running until late this century. Sign up for Guardian Australias free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup Peter Newman, a professor of sustainability at Curtin University and author on three major Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments, said the greenhouse gas emissions released once all LNG processed at the extended facility was shipped overseas and burned would dwarf everything else that Australia was doing on the climate crisis . Woodsides estimate of the annual emissions from the project suggest about 4bn of carbon dioxide equivalent could be released equivalent to about 10 years of Australias total carbon pollution. Id say that this is not just Australias most important climate decision, its as important as all the other ones put together, Newman said. The world is going to look at this and say this is the biggest global contribution to climate change in the history of Australia that is about to be approved. Everything else were doing fades away in comparison. The EPAs dismissal of the appeals lodged by interested parties does not give the project the green light, but is considered influential advice. The appeals and the EPA response will be considered by the WA appeals convenor, which will make a recommendation to the state climate action minister, Reece Whitby. The project also needs federal approval. The WA government has been a strong supporter of an expanded LNG industry . The state EPA last year recommended the extension could go ahead, and Woodside must agree to reduce the projected net onsite emissions by two-thirds. The company could do this through direct emissions cuts or through buying carbon credits to offset the pollution. It also recommended requiring Woodside reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds by at least 40% by 2030 to prevent damage to Indigenous rock art, some of which is believed to date back nearly 50,000 years. Appellants to the approval argued the EPA had not adequately assessed the projects full climate impact, including the scope 3 emissions released after the LNG was sold and burned. They said the EPA allowed Woodside to rely heavily on carbon offsets despite scientific advice that they should be used only as a last resort and had not properly applied the precautionary principle in considering the impact on Murujuga rock art. Sign up to Afternoon Update Our Australian afternoon update breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you whats happening and why it matters after newsletter promotion In its recent response, which has not been publicly released, the EPA dismissed most grounds of appeal, though some were partly upheld. It recommended new conditions be added to the development, including that Woodside must consider reasonable means to reduce future emissions from the gas it sold , and provide a report by 2045 that demonstrated whether the project would remain consistent with a global low-carbon environment beyond 2050. The chief executive of Climate Analytics and climate scientist Bill Hare was critical of the EPA. He said scientific evidence had shown the world needed to stop burning gas before 2045, but rather than reinforce that the EPA had given the benefit of the doubt to a fossil fuel company. I dont see any science behind it, he said. The EPAs chair, Prof Matthew Tonts, defended the recommendations made in June last year, saying they included strict conditions requiring the gas facility to make year-on-year emissions reductions to reach net zero by 2050. He said the EPA decided at the time it was important that emissions were reduced at a faster rate than required by the former Coalition federal government. He acknowledged there had been significant policy and regulatory change since then as the Albanese government had increased and legislated national emissions target and revamped the safeguard mechanism to require reductions in industrial pollution. Tonts said the EPAs role was to make a recommendation to the state environment minister, and it was important to note the minister could request the authority look at changing the conditions imposed on a development at any time. The Perth-based head of clean energy transition at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Jessica Panegyres, said the EPA had only a narrow mandate to consider the developments impact, and called on the federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, to conduct her own assessment given its national importance . Australia has made a legal commitment to be net zero emissions by 2050 and this development would see it exporting gas well into the second half of the century, Panegyres said. Its a climate disaster, and too important to just leave to the state EPA. A Woodside spokesperson said the company complied with regulatory requirements and supported the process undertaken by the EPA. The facts about emissions are contained in the extensive publicly available documentation Woodside has provided to regulators and which form the basis of their consideration, the spokesperson said.