By Celine Lai
On 30 June 2022 the Conservation Council of W.A. reported that:
The WA Environmental Protection Authority’s Report number 1727 has recommended that Woodside’s proposed extension of the North West Shelf gas processing facility be approved by the State Government.
The EPA’s Report AND Woodside’s proposal (the NWS proposal) can be found at the end of this page here.
The EPA’s approval would extend the life of the North West Shelf gas processing plant, which is located on the Burrup Peninsula, by at least 50 years. This is one of the oldest and least efficient gas processing plants in Australia, and Woodside is dangerously close to being given licence to continue to produce highly polluting fossil fuels into the 2070s.
According to the EPA documents released, this extension will produce 4.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions. Scope 3 emissions, i.e. emissions from burning gas used by people other than those who produced or extracted it, are not covered by Woodside’s mitigation proposal.
Without proper mitigation, that amount is utterly incompatible with any of Australia’s efforts to drive down emissions in time to avoid irreversible damage to our climate.
“Extending the life of this giant fossil fuel facility is not going to reverse the trend that has made WA the worst performing state, on climate action, in the country. We not only can do better; we must do better.” – Maggie Wood, CCWA’s Executive Director
Natural gas – which is a fossil fuel — is one of the primary drivers behind WA’s ongoing emissions crisis, which has seen emissions levels rise by 20 per cent over 2005 levels, in contrast to reductions in other states.
The main component of natural gas, methane, is more than 85 times more potent than CO2 in trapping heat in the atmosphere, over a 20 year time scale, and is a direct contributor to ongoing climate change which increases the frequency of record high temperatures, floods, bushfires and droughts in Western Australia.
Woodside continues to court controversy among the scientific community and conservationists as it targets expansion of its fossil fuel operations while bodies like the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have advocated for no new oil, gas or coal developments.
The North West Shelf site sits on the Burrup Peninsula, traditionally known as Murujuga by the Indigenous communities which have inhabited the area for tens of thousands of years.
Murujuga is also home to at least one million world heritage shortlisted ancient rock carvings – known as petroglyphs – which have been found to be directly threatened by emissions from heavy industry, including gas processing.
These petroglyphs are among some of the oldest depictions of human figures and include images of long extinct animals and the first encounters of Aboriginal people with western settlers.
Concerns have also been raised about how Woodside intends to follow up on its plans to make the North West Shelf facility ‘net-zero’ emissions compliant by 2050 with the EPA recommending regular monitoring of the company’s progress towards that goal.
Maggie Wood said that:
“The only environmentally responsible way to get the North West Shelf emissions to net-zero, is by reducing production, which would defeat the purpose of even considering extending the life of the site.
If Woodside is not willing to reduce production, then they will be relying on offsets.
Offsetting projects simply doesn’t deliver what we need – a large-scale reduction in the carbon emissions entering the atmosphere.
Offsets are often used as a smokescreen by companies like Woodside to allow continued expansion of fossil fuel production. Equally, companies like Woodside often favour cheap, low-quality offsets that are difficult to enforce properly.
“The WA Government has recently set a solid foundation to tackle our state’s emissions crisis with its public sector interim emissions reduction targets. That will all be for naught if fossil fuel companies like Woodside are allowed to continue expanding and consolidating a highly polluting and outdated business model.”
On July 22, 2022, the Sydney Morning Herald reported a record number of appeals lodged against Woodside’s 50-year gas project extension.
It reports claims that Woodside may have misled the West Australian environment regulator by overstating reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for its proposal to extend the North West Shelf project until 2070.
The green light from the EPA – after the International Energy Agency declared last year that there should be no new fossil fuel supply projects if the world was to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – has seen more than 750 appeals lodged with WA’s Appeals Convenor.
The previous record for number of appeals was 170.
Alex Hillman, a former strategy adviser at Woodside and a current Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) lead carbon analyst, said the expansion could pave the way for the opening of new gas basins.
“This proposal demonstrates that Woodside has no genuine intention of transitioning away from fossil fuels, even though half of its investors have voted in favour of the company setting scope 3 emission targets.”
“The EPA’s recommendations are misinformed and overly generous. The ability for the North West Shelf to meet these concerning targets using carbon offsets is scientifically flawed and at odds with WA’s policy.”
Now it is up to the WA Environment Minister to do the right thing.”
The 750 plus appeals against Woodside’s proposal (Report 1727) are now being considered by the Office of the Appeals Convenor. Report 1727 updates can be found at this page here.