One of Australia’s largest ever resource construction projects has been given the green light, subject to environmental conditions, by the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority.
EPA chairman Dr. Paul Vogel announced on Monday that, subject to 29 conditions, Woodside Petroleum’s controversial $30 billion Browse Basin Liquefied Natural Gas Precinct – which could generate up to 6,000 jobs during peak construction – has been recommended for approval.
Vogel says the level of proposal was the largest and most multi-faceted ever conducted in the EPA’s 40-year history.
“The level of complexity in assessing this proposal was unprecedented,” Vogel says. “The assessment has been incredibly thorough and included wide consultation with community members and scientific experts, site visits and meetings with interest groups. After carefully considering each environmental factor, I have recommended a rigorous set of 29 conditions and offsets to ensure the EPA’s environmental objectives are met.”
One of the largest resource construction projects the country has ever seen, the project involves the development of three Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) trains able to process an expected 15 million tonnes per year at James Price Point, approximately 60 kilometres north of Broome on the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia. The site would see LNG pumped via eight pipelines to a two-kilometre long jetty.
The proposal has been controversial, as opponents have argued that it encroaches on the cultural and environmental integrity of the site.
Potential environmental concerns include impacts upon whales, dolphins, turtles, dugong and fish as a result of turbidity from oil spills, industrial discharges, noise, light and vessel strikes; an impact upon seabed habitats as a result of dredging 34 million cubic metres of the seabed; potential oil spills or discharges; loss of Monsoon Vine Thicket vegetation, which has a high conservation value and is important to the traditional owners as a source of customary foods and other sources; coastal and terrestrial erosion and a threat to human health from gas, noise, dust and air emissions.
In terms of cultural values, concerns have predominantly revolved around potential interference with fossilised dinosaur track sites that occur in Broome Sandstone in the region.
Vogel says, however, that as long as Woodside complies with the conditions contained within the decision, these effects can be minimised.
“Creating any industrial undertaking, particularly one of this magnitude, will have an environmental impact,” he says. “However these impacts and risks can be managed to an acceptable level.”
With regard to cultural considerations, Vogel says these have been extensively addressed in agreements between Woodside, traditional owners and the state government.
While Monday’s decision makes the chances of the development going ahead more likely, the project is by no means a certainty.
The EPA’s recommendations will now be considered by state and commonwealth environment ministers, who will then make the final decision on the project’s environmental approval.
Following this, Woodside says it expects to make a final investment decision in the first half of next year.
Should the proposed development go ahead, it will have an enormous positive impact on an already huge pipeline of work in the state’s resource construction sector. The company expects the project to generate around 6,000 construction jobs during the peak onshore construction phase and a further 2,000 jobs during offshore construction.