Conservationists in court bid to halt $16bn Scarborough gas project citing damage to barrier reef | Gas

An environmental group has launched a legal bid to halt $16 billion gas development in Western Australia, arguing that the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the Great Barrier Reef would be significant and should be assessed under national environmental law.

The Scarborough gas project in Woodside will likely affect the natural heritage and natural heritage values ​​of the 2,300-kilometre coral reef system by increasing the mass bleaching of coral reefs, documents filed in Federal Court by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) on Tuesday said.

Woodside needs final approval from the marine energy regulator, the National Petroleum Safety and Marine Environment Administration (Nopsema), before the development can proceed.

The ACF said the project’s impact on reefs means it should lose the legal exemption from national environmental laws granted to projects evaluated by Nopsema, and instead be considered under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) by the federal environment minister, Tanya Plebersk.

The case is the latest in a growing list that tests approval of Australian fossil fuel developments based on their projected contribution to global heating.

Scarborough has become a rallying point for climate activists who cite a warning from scientists and the International Energy Agency that the world cannot afford large new fossil fuel projects if only to avoid a deepening climate crisis. It involves opening an untapped gas field 375 kilometers off the Pilbara coast in Washington state and connecting it via pipeline to an expanded LNG processing plant near the city of Kratha. The bulk of the LNG will be exported and flared in Asia.

Climate Analytics researchers estimated that the gas from the project could release 1.37 billion tons of carbon dioxide – more than three times Australia’s annual emissions – into the atmosphere over 25 years.

Woodside and other proponents of the project, including Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, and new Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King, have argued that gas from Scarborough will help reduce global emissions by replacing polluting coal-fired energy. They have been asked to provide evidence to support and quantify this, but none have been released.

The Anti-Corruption Foundation documents said emissions from Scarborough are likely to increase average global temperature by at least 0.000394 degrees Celsius, killing millions of coral reefs in every future mass bleaching event, and cumulatively working with existing greenhouse gases. Already in the atmosphere to contribute. To promote anthropogenic climate change.

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Coral reefs have suffered four mass reef bleaching events since 2016, and scientists say 99% of corals could potentially be lost if average heating reached 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

If the case succeeds, ACF CEO Kelly Ochanassi said, it would help cement the idea that all new developments in fossil fuels should be assessed for the climate damage they might cause — a point repeatedly raised by environmentalists but often it’s not. Required under Australian law.

She said she expected any assessment to show “new coal and gas not piling up environmentally”.

“Scarborough gas is a climate bomb about to explode,” she said. “We should not fall for the accounting hoax that these emissions will not affect reefs in Australia simply because the gas will be mostly burned offshore. Reefs are not concerned with the source of the greenhouse gases they are harming.”

Woodside said the Scarborough project had been “the subject of rigorous environmental assessments by a group of regulators” and would “vigorously defend its position”.

“The Scarborough project is on-going and on schedule after receiving all initial environmental approvals,” said Meg O’Neill, the company’s CEO.

“The project will bring significant local and national benefits in the form of job opportunities, tax revenue and reliable gas supply in the energy transition for decades to come.”

Dr Selina Ward, a senior lecturer at the University of Queensland and director of the Heron Island Research Station on Coral Reefs, said a project on the Scarborough scale would make a difference in global temperatures and it makes no sense that it is exempt from national environmental laws.

She said the Great Barrier Reef and other tropical reefs were already “suffering badly”. “If we want to keep it, we can’t agree to this kind of project,” she said.

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