Woodside’s Scarborough Gas Field Equivalent to 15 New Coal Power Plants, Risks Murujuga Rock Art

Woodside’s controversial Scarborough Gas Field would result in an additional 1.6 billion tonnes of emissions—equivalent to building 15 new coal power stations—and places World Heritage Murujuga Aboriginal rock art at risk of being destroyed, new research by the Conservation Council of Western Australia and the Australia Institute shows.

Approvals to process the Scarborough gas field were provided by the WA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2019 without assessment of carbon pollution or other environmental impacts, including the damage to the globally significant 45,000+ year old Murujuga Aboriginal rock art.

Legal actions have commenced in the WA Supreme Court in a bid to overturn approvals already issued to Woodside by the EPA after the company blocked efforts to have the project assessed. However, Western Australia’s first Minister for Climate Action is being pushed by Woodside to sign off on further approvals.

“Not only does Scarborough fly in the face of global efforts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees, but the project risks destroying globally significant Murujuga Aboriginal rock art in what can only be described as repeating Juukan Gorge in slow motion,” said Mark Ogge, Principal Adviser at The Australia Institute.

“The Murujuga Aboriginal rock art is already being destroyed due to acid gas emission from LNG projects. It is extraordinary that in the wake of the Juukan Gorge destruction that this project would be approved without the impacts on this priceless cultural treasure even being assessed.

“Western Australia is already being devastated by more frequent and extreme fires, and less rainfall as a result of climate change. Allowing the Scarborough project to go ahead is throwing fuel on the fire.

“Woodside investors would be taking a huge gamble to spend $16 billion in this project. In just the last few weeks, the International Energy Agency have said no new gas projects can be approved if the world is to achieve net zero by 2050, let alone 1.5 degrees, a Dutch court has ordered Shell to cut its emissions by over 40% percent this decade and Exxon board members have been toppled for not taking climate change seriously. The writing is on the wall.”

Quotes provided by additional experts, below.

Prof Carmen Lawrence, former WA Premier and Chair of the National Heritage Council:
“We have seen from what happened at Juukan Gorge that our community expects better when it comes to protection of our priceless and irreplaceable Aboriginal Heritage. Many of the same circumstances apply to Woodside’s Scarborough development, and the Government has an opportunity to pause and reconsider before permanent damage is locked in. It is clear now that pollution from gas processing on the Burrup is having a significant effect on the Murujuga rock Art. Allowing further expansion of gas processing on this site will increase both the duration and severity of these impacts and this must be assessed carefully before any further decisions are made, not as an afterthought.”

Prof. Bill Hare, Director at Climate Analytics:
“It is clear from our own work that in pollution terms the Scarborough LNG development is one of the biggest fossil fuel developments presently being considered in Australia. The direct annual emissions deriving from it will compromise Australia’s emissions reduction goals, while the global emissions from the project mean that it cannot be made consistent with global goals established under the Paris Agreement.”

“The International Energy Agency’s recent net zero report shows very clearly that there can be no new fossil fuel developments if the Paris agreement 1.5° goal is to be met. There is no exception in this report for Western Australia.”

Mark Ogge, Principal Adviser at the Australia Institute:
“The Scarborough project and Pluto expansion would add around 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. It is completely contrary to global efforts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees to avoid catastrophic climate change. Western Australia is already experiencing significant drying and more frequent and intense fires due to climate change. This is throwing fuel on the fire.”

Prof. Peter Newman, Beeliar Group of Professors:
“We are extremely concerned that a decision by Western Australia’s first Minister for Climate Action could sanction the release of well over a billion tonnes of carbon pollution, and result in other impacts on the environment and Aboriginal heritage that have not been subject to formal environmental impact assessment. The idea that a development with a carbon footprint greater than the Adani coal mine, and with irreversible impacts on World Heritage values could be allowed to proceed without rigorous assessment at the highest level is astonishing.”

Jeff Hansen, Managing Director Sea Shepherd: 
“We simply cannot allow the Scarborough project to go ahead if our children are to have any hope in a liveable climate. We know the impacts of climate on our ocean, from dying critical ecosystems like our Great Barrier Reef or vast mangrove losses in the north caused by acidification and warming from climate change. We are in a global climate emergency and what we do today will determine the future of humanity.”

Dr. Richard Yin, National Secretary, Doctors for the Environment Australia:
“This project will impact the future health of young Australians.”

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