Scarborough requires EPBC approval: CCWA

THE Conservation Council of Western Australia has sent a legal letter to the federal government and the offshore regulator (NOPSEMA) arguing that Woodside Petroleum’s Scarborough development cannot proceed due to lack of key federal approvals under the EPBC Act.
Scarborough requires EPBC approval: CCWA Scarborough requires EPBC approval: CCWA Scarborough requires EPBC approval: CCWA Scarborough requires EPBC approval: CCWA Scarborough requires EPBC approval: CCWA

NOPSEMA says “range of further approvals” required

Mark Tilly

Senior Journalist

Mark Tilly

The activist group has been campaigning against Woodside's A$16 billion flagship growth project which would see the development of the Scarborough fields offshore Western Australia being tied back to an expanded Pluto LNG facility since early 2020. 

Tensions around the project have been high as Woodside expects to make a final investment decision in a matter of weeks, with activist groups holding almost weekly rallies against the project. 

Woodside has been adamant that all approvals necessary to make FID are in place. NOPSEMA has told Energy News that the project has received ‘in principle approval' and clearance to commence specific operations has not been granted. 

An environment plan for the development is currently before NOPSEMA for assessment for the drilling and completion of development wells.

The legal letter, sent by law firm the  Environmental Defenders Office on behalf of CCWA and seen by Energy News, argues that the emissions created by Woodside development would fall under matters of national environmental significance, due to the impacts on the World Heritage and National Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef. 

CCWA has long-argued that Scarborough's emissions are incompatible with Australia achieving its emissions reduction targets under the Paris Agreement, estimating the project will emit some 1.7 billion tonnes CO2 emissions across all Scopes over its operational life. The field itself is particularly low CO2 of an estimated 0.1%.

By comparison its Browse field - where sanction plans are effectively on ice - is some 10%. 

The group said it is not aware that any approval or other decisions applies to the offshore components under the EPBC Act or any other legislation that would permit the project to be developed "having regard to those likely significant impacts". 

"Therefore, CCWA asserts that Scarborough is currently prohibited by at least s12 and 15b of the EPBC Act and has requested that Woodside refer the development to the Minister for the Environment as is required under section 68(1) of the EPBC Act," it said. 

CCWA director Maggie Wood said the group has "been consistent in asking that Woodside comply with the letter of the law and the necessary regulations; checks and approvals. No more, no less." 

"There is nothing exceptional about what we are asking of Woodside. It is the same thing that would be asked of any development of any size and of any developer, no matter their resources or influence," she said. 

"The impacts from the emissions produced by the Scarborough development will not be limited to WA. They will be felt globally, not least those impacts on our iconic national heritage, such as the Great Barrier Reef."

Last week CCWA argued that key environmental and heritage approvals for the project remain outstanding, or are behind schedule, and that Woodside's disclosures to market around the process have been "vague". 

A Woodside spokesperson speaking to Energy News reiterated its statement to the activist group's criticisms last week. 

"The primary environmental approvals from the Commonwealth and Western Australian Governments are in place to support the FID for Scarborough," she said. 

"Woodside rejects the assertion by activists that there is significant environmental approvals risk of proceeding to an FID for Scarborough at this time."

Woodside CEO Meg O'Neill told shareholders in October that the company was on track to make FID before the end of the year. 

"All major contracts and Commonwealth and Western Australia primary environmental approvals to support and FID are now in place, and commercial agreements are approaching finalisation," she said. 

A NOPSEMA spokesperson confirmed to Energy News that it had received the EDO letter and it was considering the matters raised by CCWA.

"To date the only NOPSEMA approval in place for the offshore project is an OPP assessed and accepted by NOPSEMA in accordance with streamlining arrangements under the EPBC," he said.  

"This provides an 'in principle' approval for the project as a whole, however it does not provide approval for specific activities to commence."

"There are a range of further approvals required for any activity to begin including an environment plan (EP) well operations management plan (WOMP) and safety case."

A Department of Environment spokesperson told Energy News that "Woodside's Scarborough project has been assessed at the Commonwealth level by NOPSEMA."

The EDO expect a response to the letter within two weeks. 

Separately CCWA is taking Woodside to the WA Supreme Court, also represented by the EDO. The case was launched at the end of last year and is expected to be heard in December. 

It has been arguing that a judicial review for the environmental approvals the company received nearly two years ago is necessary. 

O'Neill has previously described the legal challenge as "immaterial". 

Woodside currently holds 73.5% of the field and BHP 26.5%, but it will take the full share when it acquires BHP's entire petroleum arm in an all-scrip deal. Last week it announced it sold 49% of Pluto train 2 to Global Infrastructure Partners, dependent on Scarborough FID.