By Liam Lilly
Another day, another announcement from WA’s omnipresent fossil fuel giant, Woodside.
Today Woodside announced that the company had been selected as the ‘preferred partner’ for the Meridan Southern Green Hydrogen project in New Zealand.
The project has been described by the proponent as ‘a world-class hydrogen and ammonia facility’. Puzzlingly, Meridan’s Chief Executive, Neal Barclay, also said: “Woodside has demonstrated climate change ambitions, and as we are a 100 per cent renewable energy company and committed to sustainability, that was a key focus for us in selecting a partner.”
Perhaps Mr Barclay doesn’t read the news. Maybe the extensive coverage of Woodside’s destructive business activities, here in the West, doesn’t make it all the way ‘across the ditch’ to New Zealand. However, for the avoidance of any doubt, let’s examine the evidence.
In the past year, Woodside has announced plans to open up the Browse gas basin, continued to pursue the extension of its North West Shelf gas processing facility, finalised its acquisition of BHP’s petroleum arm, called for the Sunrise gas project in the Timor Sea to be revived, been caught covering up a damning CSIRO report which Woodside itself commissioned and ignored countless papers and studies from the scientific community which intrinsically link its gas production with alarming global temperature rises.
Despite its hydrogen sideshow, Woodside’s primary business model is still highly polluting fossil fuel gas. Meg O’Neill and her executives continue to push ahead with plans to exploit new gas fields, extend the life of existing ones and use its enormous export power to marginalise renewable energy generation in international markets.
Even if we are to take Meridan at their word and accept that this new New Zealand facility is the pinnacle of best practice, renewable hydrogen production, it is still scarcely credible that Woodside would be a suitable partner, based on its track record in this area.
The company’s plans for a new ‘hydrogen hub’ near Kwinana, announced in October last year, were heralded by a WA Government press release under the headline ‘WA to become global clean energy powerhouse’.
The word ‘clean’ was particularly egregious.
As the Conservation Council of WA identified at the time, the fact that the WA government chose to use the rather ambiguous word ‘clean’ - as opposed to the more definitive ‘renewable’ or the slightly less definitive ‘green’ – betrayed the fact that, for the foreseeable future at least, the Kwinana plant would be powered by dirty, emissions intensive gas.
Woodside itself chose not to stretch so far as to call the Kwinana plant ‘clean’, opting instead for the even more ambiguous ‘lower carbon’. As WAToday journalist Peter Milne rightly pointed out, “lower than what was not specified.”
So, as might be expected for a fossil fuel company, Woodside would use its own dirty product to produce the hydrogen at Kwinana; but it would still be producing hydrogen, right?
Well, not exactly, according to Woodside’s own ‘Environmental Information Sheet’ for the project, released earlier this month. While not exactly bristling with detail, the six page document did reveal some interesting information about what Woodside intends to actually produce at their ‘H2Perth’ Kwinana facility.
On page three of that document, Woodside says that its proposed activity at H2Perth is ‘the production of gaseous hydrogen and its conversion to ammonia (and potentially liquid hydrogen) for export and local supply’ (my emphasis). In fact, throughout the document, Woodside is consistent in placing ammonia first and hydrogen second in all references to production.
More illuminating still, the phased development table, also on page three, refers only to ammonia production – not hydrogen – through all three phases of the facility’s construction.
In short, H2 Perth will ‘potentially’ produce liquid hydrogen, but will definitely be producing ammonia – the most energy intensive commodity chemical in the world - for export. Hardly the ‘clean energy powerhouse’ the people of WA were promised.
Back to New Zealand though, and the promise contained in Woodside’s joint media release of: ‘significant benefits to the local community’, and, in the words of Woodside’s CEO Meg O’Neill, ‘meeting customer demand for hydrogen (…) both domestically and globally.’
However, liberally scattered through the release are the telling words ‘ammonia’ and ‘export’, not least from Mitsui – a fossil fuel company with a troubling track record of its own - which is circling the proposal with a view to join the project to help develop a ‘potential market for ammonia offtake’.
“We look forward to working closely with Meridan, Woodside and all the related important stakeholder to develop a large-scale hydrogen and ammonia export project”, said Mitsui Chief Operating Officer of Energy Solutions Business Unit Toru Iijima.
Whatever the truth of the matter, one thing remains certain: for all the distractions, Woodside is still a fossil fuel export company which is still very much wedded to its core business model. That business model is highly polluting, highly damaging and increasingly unpopular.
Whether Woodside’s hydrogen projects are ‘clean’, ‘green’, ‘renewable’ or just plain dirty, they are only sideshows to the company’s relentless pursuit of profit in fossil fuels.
Liam Lilly is a researcher on gas and emissions for the Conservation Council of WA, Western Australia’s peak conservation and environment body.
MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing more than 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.
For more information, visit: ccwa.org.au.
CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies
08 9420 7291 / 0412 272 570 or by email, [email protected]