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Another set back for Scarborough as Woodside’s missteps pile pressure on investors

A decision by the Federal Court is the latest indication of the investment risk posed by Woodside’s controversial Scarborough gas proposal, according to Western Australia’s peak environment and climate body.

On Thursday, the Federal Court in Perth found that a decision made by the Federal Regulator NOPSEMA to allow Woodside to conduct seismic blasting off the Pilbara coast was invalid. This means that Woodside must now shelve its plans for seismic blasting until it can submit and obtain approval for a new environmental plan.

Woodside says the decision will cause significant financial ramifications for the company.

It is the latest setback for Woodside’s Scarborough gas plans, which has faced repeated delays and been the subject of four separate legal challenges. It has also attracted significant opposition from campaigners and advocacy groups, including the Conservation Council of WA, Greenpeace and the Australian Marine Conservation Society. A number of high-profile protests – and shareholder action at Woodside’s annual general meetings – have put more pressure on the fossil fuel giant, which has plans to rapidly expand its gas export business in Western Australia.

What was this case about?

Late last month, the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) and Traditional Owner, Raelene Cooper, filed a legal challenge against the regulator, which provided the key approvals Woodside needed to carry out seismic blasting.

The challenge was based on the assertion that the regulator (NOPSEMA) did not have the power to grant the approvals as Woodside had failed to adequately consult Ms Cooper, as a Traditional Custodian.

In court, Claire Harris SC, representing Ms Cooper, argued that the seismic blasting would affect areas of cultural significance to Aboriginal people.

“The regulations state that the environmental plan must describe the existing environment that may be affected by the activity, cultural, social and economic factors”, she said.

“That is simply not possible if the consultation has not been completed.”

The judge, Federal Court Justice Craig Colvin, agreed and found that NOPSEMA did not have the power to approve Woodside’s environmental plan for seismic blasting before the company had properly consulted Ms Cooper.

‘Scarborough remains risky and uncertain’, peak body

Maggie Wood, Programs Director at the Conservation Council of WA (CCWA), congratulated the EDO and Raelene Cooper and said the decision represented another question mark against the Scarborough proposal.

“From the get-go, Scarborough has been a highly contentious project, and this latest Federal Court ruling highlights that.

“We are deeply pleased to see the Court recognise the importance of proper consultation with Traditional Custodians. Where proponents fail to properly consult with people and communities where they operate, they are not only failing to recognise First Nations peoples unique and powerful connection to the land and sea, but also leave their proposals exposed to legal challenges, such as this.

“This ruling is as much as a result of poor decision-making by the regulator as it is yet another blunder by Woodside.

“Those planning to invest in this project, or who already have money tied up in Scarborough or Woodside more generally, must be studying this latest setback in detail and considering whether the continued delays and spiralling costs are really worth it.

“Scarborough is a highly polluting, highly controversial and increasingly expensive project which flies in the face of the international consensus against new fossil fuel developments .”


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