Woodside’s Seismic Plans Halted Amid Legal Hurdles

by Ikeoluwa Juliana Ogungbangbe

Woodside Energy has agreed to postpone seismic surveying for its US$12 billion Scarborough and Pluto Train 2 gas project in Australia atter the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) mounted an eleventh-hour legal challenge to the offshore campaign.

Woodside early last week was still intending to commence acquiring seismic at its Scarborough field despite Federal Court challenges against the survey’s regulatory approval that had been respectively brought by Greenpeace and by Mardudhunera woman Raelene Cooper.

Greenpeace noted that Woodside plans a seismic survey lasting up to 80 days to assess the gas reserves for its Burrup Hub (Scarborough and Pluto Train 2 project). The environmental lobby group claimed that the planned seismic acquisition near to the UNESCO-protected Ningaloo reef could impact whales and other marine life.

‘Brazen and dangerous’

“Woodside has declared a war on whales. The fossil fuel giant is about to shamelessly and recklessly start seismic blasting right next to an endangered whale superhighway as part of its climate wrecking plans to build new fossil fuel projects,” said Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner, Richard George.

Describing Woodside’s seismic plans as “brazen and dangerous”, George added: “Seismic blasting is like an atomic bomb going off underwater and threatens to deafen whales which use sonar [to locate] food – and a deaf whale is a dead whale.”

However, in an apparent U-turn, a lawyer for Woodside on Thursday told the Federal Court that it would not go ahead with the controversial seismic survey until the injunction brought by the EDO had been resolved.

Local media reported that a second court hearing in this regard is scheduled for 14 September ahead of a two-day trial that is due to start on 23 October.

The plaintiffs’ contention is that industry regulator, National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema), failed to properly consult with traditional custodians before approving Woodside’s seismic plans.

Traditional owner Cooper is seeking a judicial review of Nopsema’s approval of the Scarborough seismic acquisition offshore Western Australia.

This case is understood to be the first legal challenge to a Nopsema approval since Tiwi Islanders last year won a landmark victory in the federal court that overturned the offshore regulator’s green light for the development drilling campaign for Santos’ Barossa gas project.

Nopsema on 31 July approved Woodside’s Scarborough seismic survey but with the caveat that the operator must undertake further consultation before starting work.

The EDO, which is representing Cooper, has alleged that Woodside failed to adequately consult its client about seismic acquisition and had not taken the time to “gather all the relevant information about our client’s sea country and interests”.

Woodside chief executive, Meg O’Neill, earlier this year said that the Scarborough and Pluto Train 2 project remains on track for first liquefied natural gas in 2026 despite Nopsema in late 2022 requiring additional, enhanced environmental plans to be submitted.

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