Climate activist's playbook against Australia LNG projects revealed

ANTI-gas activists are widely expected to continue their campaign of litigation, using 'loopholes' in regulatory legislation to stall the multi-billion-dollar Barossa and Scarborough LNG projects, according to oil and gas industry leaders. Crucially, the Environmental Defenders Office, a key proponent of the litigation, should be transparent about where its funding comes from.

Australia Law Court. Sydney, 22 May 2023. (Shutterstock).

Australia Law Court. Sydney, 22 May 2023. (Shutterstock).

Santos was set to begin laying pipe connecting its massive Barossa gas field to the Darwin LNG export complex this month, however a last-minute lawsuit by activist law firm, the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), has halted operations.

On Wednesday this week, an injunction by the EDO was upheld by the Federal Court, until a trial can be held in December to hear the case.

Speaking bluntly at a press conference following the monthly WA Energy Club luncheon, Santos CEO Kevin Gallagher told Energy News on Wednesday that he expected the EDO to file further lawsuits to stall Barossa and Woodside's Scarborough project. 

He also cast doubt on the future of any major energy project in Australia - from offshore wind, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and future oil developments - because of litigation stemming from climate activists.  

"I'm not sure the government fully understand the gravity of this situation. I think with Scarborough being impacted more recently that has brought it home that [climate activism] is an industry-wide issue," he said.

Gallagher noted Santos had resubmitted its drilling environmental plan to the regulator, National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), and was waiting for approval.

"No doubt within 30 days we'll get another lawsuit on that one and we'll see how that goes," he said.

He said the EDO's "playbook" was now clear.

"I think its not unreasonable to expect that every EP that [industry] get approved on Barossa and possibly Scarborough… we will see more of this."

Gallagher's comments reinforced industry expectations that the wave of climate lawsuits would not cease anytime soon.

Last week, during a press conference following Woodside's investor briefing day, CEO Meg O'Neill said she expected to see ongoing litigation in relation to Scarborough from the EDO.

Who is behind EDO?

The EDO have run very successful legal challenges against new gas developments over the last two years. The organisation receives partial government funding but relies heavily on ‘philanthropic giving.'

In 2022, the registered charity spent 134 days in court opposing resources projects - mainly focusing on Barossa LNG. At the end of last financial year, it had A$11.8 million cash in the bank and 100 employees.

Answering questions at a press conference following his speech, Gallagher called for transparency on how the charity was funded.

"They look to me like they're targeting an industry," Gallagher said, referring to the oil and gas sector.

"The EDO would probably say they're not climate activists, but I would argue that's their motivation."

"We've seen in other parts of the world, where funding for some of those types of organisations are from people who benefit from stopping certain activities."

Gallagher said the organisation needed to operate under the same rules as any corporate entity and publish the origin of its donations.

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the energy sector, brought to you by the Energy News Bulletin Intelligence team.

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the energy sector, brought to you by the Energy News Bulletin Intelligence team.


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