The years of protests and Court action against destroying James Price Point pays off.
It’s been quiet on the James Price Point front since Woodside pulled out of their damaging proposal. Premier Barnett has doubled down however, still pushing his agenda to develop. A bombshell has hit today, the Court has declared the EPA approval as UNLAWFUL. This case was like David beating Goliath. Common sense prevails:
Approval for $40bn gas giant at James Price Point ‘unlawful’
- From: The Australian
- August 20, 2013
THE development of vast natural gasfields off Western Australia’s Kimberley coast has suffered a setback after the state’s Supreme Court found the environmental approvals for a critical gas-processing hub north of Broome were unlawful.
Opening the champagne corks today, just as soon as the shops open …
In an embarrassment for the Barnett government, Chief Justice Wayne Martin yesterday ruled the environmental approvals needed to build a gas hub for Woodside Petroleum’s $40 billion-plus Browse Basin project at James Price Point should be set aside because of conflicts of interest among the environmental watchdog’s board members. The ruling undermines the credibility of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency and, in particular, its chairman Paul Vogel, whose decision-making was criticised by Chief Justice Martin.
Dr Vogel allowed three of the board’s five members to attend meetings and participate in decision-making for 44 months of the 48-month process even though, as early as September 2009, two members had declared they had shares in Woodside and another worked for Browse joint-venture partner BP. A fourth member never participated in meetings as she had been an employee of the Department of State Development, the government’s proponent of the project.
Dr Vogel made the final decision on environmental approval alone, but Chief Justice Martin found the conflicts of interest meant the assessment report he presented to then-environment minister Bill Marmion in July last year was invalid and Mr Marmion’s statement authorising the precinct was also invalid.
Woodside scrapped plans to build an onshore gas plant at James Price Point earlier this year, citing Australia’s high costs.
The Browse venture partners – Woodside, Shell, BP, Mitsubishi/Mitsui and PetroChina – requested in June that their lease on the gasfields in the Browse Basin be varied to allow them to study developments other than building a gas plant at James Price Point, 60km north of Broome. It is believed the venture was planning to develop Browse using floating LNG technology – an offshore plant.
Premier Colin Barnett, who still wants an LNG facility developed at the site and is strongly opposed to the use of floating LNG on the basis it will create fewer jobs, said he was disappointed but accepted the court’s decision. He acknowledged the process had been at fault but maintained the EPA’s decision to give environmental approval and the conditions it set last year were correct, despite the court’s ruling.
“I don’t think the environmental assessment failed in any way,” Mr Barnett said.
The state was likely to resubmit the environmental approvals to the EPA, which would need to find board members with no conflict of interest. Mr Barnett wants to establish James Price Point as a project-ready site for a gas precinct to encourage development of Browse and Canning basins.
“I don’t give up,” Mr Barnett said. “And this is so important, James Price Point, for the future employment of workers, including Aboriginal people, so important for jobs across the state. So important for Australian and West Australian businesses to participate in major resource projects and so important to have gas come onshore so that it can be used by householders and businesses for decades to come.”
But Peter Robertson, from the Wilderness Society, which brought the court case along with Goolarabooloo man Richard Hunter, said the prospect of a gas hub at James Price Point was now “dead and buried”.
“Premier Colin Barnett must face facts (and) drop this unhealthy obsession,” Mr Robertson said. He said board members had declared conflicts of interest in other projects assessed by the EPA, but it was unclear whether they had been allowed to continue participating in the process.
Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said Mr Barnett, whose government selected the James Price Point site, was responsible for a saga that had cost the state at least $15m and caused turmoil among opposing Aboriginal groups.
“He drove this,” Mr McGowan said.
Chief Justice Martin described as “misplaced” Dr Vogel’s reasoning that the proponent of the LNG precinct was the minister for state development and therefore a pecuniary interest in Woodside or its Browse partners did not fall under the section of the EPA’s act dealing with conflict of interest.
He found that when the powers of the EPA were eventually delegated to Dr Vogel alone because of the conflicts of interest, he did not undertake a new assessment of the proposal but rather adopted “in substance” the invalidated work prepared with the participation of disqualified board members.
The Wilderness Society called for Dr Vogel and Mr Marmion, now Mines and Petroleum Minister, to be sacked.
Mr Barnett said the court’s decision related to the EPA’s process but the board’s members had not acted improperly or sought to gain in any way. He was confident at the prospects of a fresh environmental assessment by the EPA.
Mr Hunter vowed to keep fighting against any development at James Price Point and the Wilderness Society also claimed the ruling had national implications.
The EPA said it would consider the ruling. The state government is seeking advice from the State Solicitor’s office.
Today, it’s time to really celebrate. Congratulations to Joseph Roe, Richard Hunter and all the Goolarabooloo FamilyThis WA Liberal Government need their heads examined for what they have been responsible for.