By Nicholas D’Alonzo
The Kimberly region of Western Australia is a wild and beautiful part of the country but like much of the rest of Western Australia it also contains many valuable resources. Gas extraction in Western Australia is usually conducted within the Perth Basin which is around Geraldton or the Carnarvon Basin around Karratha. (1) However, there is another, as of yet, mostly unexploited gas basin in the Kimberly, the Browse Basin. The Browse Basin is a gas basin that extends from the tip of the Dampier Peninsula to the Australian-Indonesia maritime boarder covering 140,000 km3. (2) There are a number of known gas fields within this basin, the largest of which is the Scott Reef or Torosa field. (2) These gas fields lie mostly in deep water over 300 km in depth making them difficult to access. (2) However, the Scott Reef is shallower water. Woodside leads a joint venture consortium that is seeking to extract gas from the Torosa, Cailiance and Brecknock fields. (3) It is not just the deep water that has prevented the exploitation of these fields in the 50 years since their discovery, there is also the remoteness and difficulty processing the gas extracted from these fields.
Woodside originally planned to use a site at James Price Point on the Dampier Peninsula. (4) The plan was supported by then-premier Colin Barnett and Woodside offered many benefits to the first nations people in the area. The Goolaraboloo people, however, refused to accept the bribery and with the help of environmental groups started a protest movement. (5) This project would have started the industrialisation of the area that has been mostly been untouched by extractive industries that ravage the rest of the state. (4) This project also put a whale breeding ground at risk. (4)The fight at James Price Point was able to delay the project long enough for the LNG market to change and make the project no longer financially viable. (4) This environmental fight is documented in the movie ‘Fighting Giants’. (6) This setback didn’t prevent these gas companies from continuing to look at ways to exploit these gas fields.
Minor partner in the joint venture project Shell has rights to another gas field within the Browse Basin, called the Prelude gas field. (7) If that name sounds familiar, that is also the name of the floating gas processing platform that Shell had built to extract gas from that field. (8) The Prelude was the largest floating object ever built. (8) Since it was put into operation in 2019 it has had a number of failures including one that left workers stranded on a ship without power or pumping or, perhaps most importantly in the Kimberly, cooling. (9) This led to industrial action by workers that was eventually settled but not before further disruption to gas production. (10) Originally, Woodside intended to use this technology to develop the gas fields it has rights to in the Browse Basin but with the failure of the Prelude they have moved onto other plans. (11)
Woodside then moved to the next most obvious solution. They couldn’t build a new gas processing facility in the Kimberly and they couldn’t process out to sea. But they can construct a 900 km undersea pipeline to connect to their existing gas processing at the Burrup Hub. (3) This project has been just moments away from the final investment decision for years up until the COVID pandemic. (12) With the rise in LNG prices due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine Woodside once again has its eyes on the Browse Basin and the Torosa field. (13)
Woodside had already started the process of getting this project through EPA approval, producing a controversial Environment Impact Statement in September 2022. (14) Making “certifiable” claims that the Browse Basin can fit within the Paris Agreement. (15) Emissions produced during the extraction of gas and from burning gas for power in Western Australia (Scope 1 & 2) are regulated by state regulators but emissions from burning the gas overseas (Scope 3) are counted but not regulated. (16) However, even the required emissions reductions locally were based completely on offsets and carbon credits. (16) Earlier plans had involved carbon capture and storage (17) but with failure of the Gorgon Gas project to get that technology to work (18), Woodside abandoned those plans. (19) Offsets are not the solution to the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels. (20) They should only be used for hard-to-mitigate uses such as concrete and long-distance air travel.
Unfortunately for Woodside and luckily for everyone else, things are finally starting to change. We recently had an improved Safeguard Mechanism pass the federal parliament. (21) It is unfortunately only relevant for a relatively small number of new fossil fuel projects. However, the Browse project is one of those. (22) The Browse Basin has a particularly high level of CO2 contained within the gas fields this means that the project has a high level of direct emissions for which Woodside will be on the hook for. (22)
There are more regulatory roadblocks that are now coming up against a potential Browse Gas project. The WA EPA is currently considering Woodside’s application to continue to use their Karratha Gas Plant on the Burrup peninsula up until 2070. (23) The EPA has also recently updated their greenhouse gas guidelines. (24) Importantly these new guidelines require that offsets only be used after all other options are exhausted preventing Woodside just paying away their emissions without at least attempting to reduce them first. (24) It also requires that any project continuing beyond 2050 have a clear plan as to how they will be net-zero by the deadline. (24) Every regulatory hurdle makes it harder and less likely that Woodside will go ahead with the environmentally damaging project.
We have attained these regulatory changes because of the hard work of environmentalists and First Nations protestors. We have delayed the project over and over again. Regulatory agencies are very slowly waking up to the reality of what is needed to fight climate change and making these large gas projects much harder to start. However, the State Government has repeatedly expressed support for the project (25) and have even given money to develop the Broome port making clear reference to the Browse Basin. (26) We must keep up the pressure on the EPA, Woodside and the WA Government to prevent this horror project from ever happening.
- Government of Western Australia. Major Prospective Areas. Department of Mines, industry Regulation and Safety. [Online] Government of Western Australia, 2023. https://www.dmp.wa.gov.au/Petroleum/Major-prospective-areas-1584.aspx
- —. Browse Basin. Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety. [Online] Government of Western Australia, 2023. https://www.dmp.wa.gov.au/Petroleum/Browse-Basin-10988.aspx
- Woodside Energy. Project Browse. Woodisde Energy. [Online] Woodside Energy, 2018. https://www.woodside.com/what-we-do/developments-and-exploration/browse
- Environs Kimberley. 5 years since we won the battle for james price point. Environs Kimberly. [Online] Environs Kimberly, April 12, 2018. https://www.environskimberley.org.au/five_years_since_we_won_the_battle_for_james_price_point
- Francis, Jeanette. Paying the Price: The Battle for James Price Point. SBS News. [Online] Special Broadcasting Service, August 20, 2012. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/paying-the-price-the-battle-for-james-price-point/olkbcwuag
- Fighting Giants. Frack Free Kimberly, 2022.
- Shell Australia. Prelude FLNG Facility. Shell Australia. [Online] Shell Australia, 2023. https://www.shell.com.au/about-us/projects-and-locations/prelude-flng-facility.html
- Collins, Ben. Worlds Largest Floating LNG factory remains in shutdown at just three years old. ABC News. [Online] Australian Broadcasting Corporation, August 21, 2020. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-21/worlds-largest-floating-lng-factory-remains-in-shutdown/12565490
- Snow, Madison. Shell’s Prelude LNG vessel shuts operations, staff evacuation underway after electrical fire. ABC News. [Online] Australian Broadcasting Corperation, December 5, 2021. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-12-05/electrical-fire-on-shell-prelude-flng-vessel-causes-evacuation/100675590
- Thompson-Fuller, Taylor. Shell, unions reach agreement in Prelude gas facility industrial dispute. ABC News. [Online] Australian Broadcasting Corporation, August 24, 2022. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-08-24/shell-unions-prelude-gas-facility-industrial-dispute-agreement/101367062
- The Guardian Australia. Opponents of James Price Point gas project welcome go-ahead for platform. The Guardian Australia. [Online] The Guardian, August 2, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/aug/02/james-price-point-gas-platform
- Tomic, Bartolomej. Woodside Pushes Back Browse FID Again. Offshore Engineer. [Online] AtCoMedia. Inc, February 14, 2020. https://www.oedigital.com/news/475666-woodside-pushes-back-browse-fid-again
- Macdonald-Smith, Angela. Woodside says Browse LNG can fit with Paris accord. Australian Financial Review. [Online] Nine Entertainment Company, September 15, 2022. https://www.afr.com/companies/energy/woodside-says-browse-lng-can-fit-with-paris-accord-20220915-p5bidp
- McKinnon, Stuart. Woodside Energy releases final environmental report on Browse LNG project. The West Australian. [Online] Seven West, September 15, 2022.
- Hayward, Andrea. Woodside Browse claims ‘certifiable’. The Canberra Times. [Online] Australian Community Media, September 15, 2022. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7905167/woodside-browse-claims-certifiable/
- Environmental Protection Authority. Environmental Factor Guideline: Greenhouse Gas Emissions . Perth : Environmental Protection Authority, 2020.
- Milne, Peter. Woodside partners up to look at carbon storage in possible boost for Browse project. Sydney Morning Herald. [Online] Nine Media, November 5 , 2021. https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/woodside-partners-up-to-look-at-carbon-storage-in-possible-boost-for-browse-project-20211105-p596cn.html
- Readfearn, Graham. Gas giant Chevron falls further behind on carbon capture targets for Gorgon gasfield. The Guardian Australia. [Online] The Guardian, July 16, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/16/gas-giant-chevron-falls-further-behind-on-carbon-capture-targets-for-gorgon-gasfield
- Milne, Peter. Woodside backs away from emissions reduction at $30 billion Browse project. WAtoday. [Online] Nine Media, September 16, 2022. https://www.watoday.com.au/business/companies/woodside-backs-away-from-emissions-reduction-at-30-billion-browse-project-20220915-p5bigp.html
- Cox, Lisa. ‘Utterly damning’ review finds offsets scheme fails to protect NSW environment. The Guardian Australia. [Online] The Guardian, August 30, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/30/utterly-damning-review-finds-offsets-scheme-fails-to-protect-nsw-environment
- Karp, Paul. Labor agrees to absolute cap on emissions to secure Greens backing for safeguard mechanism climate bill. The Guardian Australia. [Online] The Guardian, March 28, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/27/labor-agrees-to-absolute-cap-on-emissions-to-secure-greens-backing-for-safeguard-mechanism-climate-bill
- Kate Ainsworth, Rhiana Whitson. Safeguard mechanism agreement unlikely to increase energy prices and stop future coal and gas projects, experts say. ABC News. [Online] Australian Broadcasting Corportation, March 29, 2023. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-03-29/energy-industry-safeguard-mechanism-prices-investment-gas-coal/102155832
- Environmental Protection Authority. North West Shelf Project Extension. Environmental Protection Authority. [Online] Environmental Protection Authority, July 2022, 2020. https://www.epa.wa.gov.au/proposals/north-west-shelf-project-extension
- —. Environmental Factor Guideline: Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Perth : Environmental Protection Authority, 2023.
- MLA, Hon Mark McGown BA LLB. Revised policy to secure domestic gas supply and create jobs. Government of Western Australia Media Statements. [Online] Government of Western Australia, August 17, 2020. https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2020/08/Revised-policy-to-secure-domestic-gas-supply-and-create-jobs.aspx
- MLA, Hon Rita Saffoti BBus. McGowan Government boosting trade and jobs with port projects. Government of Western Australia Media Statements. [Online] Government of Western Australia, May 12, 2022. https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2022/05/McGowan-Government-boosting-trade-and-jobs-with-port-projects.aspx