Mid West gas project faces revolt after environmental tick of approval


The joint venture said CO2 emissions would hit about 300,000 tonnes per year and 37.7 million tonnes over the life of the project if customer ‘scope 3’ emissions were factored in. The joint venture said the design of the gas plant had avoided the release of about 121,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

However, Conservation Council of WA director Piers Verstegen said the recommendation went directly against the growing international body of science and legal precedent.

“With millions of tonnes of pollution and only a handful of jobs, this project is the very last thing WA and our climate needs right now,” he said.

Mr Verstegen also took aim at the companies and EPA for not including the scope 3 emissions in their analysis. In its assessment, the EPA said scope 3 emissions would be considered separately in projects used by Waitsia customers down the line.

“Despite this, it appears that Mitsui and the EPA have overlooked the vast majority of the pollution that would result from this project. A decade ago that approach might have been acceptable, but today it doesn’t pass the pub test,” he said.

WA resources law professor Alex Gardner is one of the appellants, criticising the lack of a baseline emissions figure in the assessment and insufficient detail on how the guiding principles of the Environmental Protection Act, the precautionary principle and polluter pays principle, will be applied.

He said his problem was that Waitsia proposed an increase in the state’s CO2 emissions when new gas projects should be carbon neutral or negative.

“They’re going to have 120,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year from operating the gas plant, that is still a substantial increase,” he said.

“If we’re going to reduce our emissions, we first need new projects to stop increasing our emissions.”

Professor Gardner will also argue that the proponents did not properly consider their duty of care to the state’s farmers who are already being harmed by climate change impacts.

Former chair of the Australian Coal Association and energy company executive-turned environmentalist Ian Dunlop said the current likelihood was that the globe would heat up by 2 degrees by 2040, which made even the Paris Agreement not bold enough to address climate change.

He said he lodged an appeal to the EPA recommendation because Australia needed to reduce its reliance on gas.

“The absolute priority is you don’t build new gas projects, whether its smaller ones like Waitsia or bigger ones at Burrup. You just have to stop,” he said.

The Waitsia Greenhouse Gas Management Plan committed to by the joint venture was to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 though the project was expected to be completed in the mid 2040s.

A spokesman for the joint venture said emission reduction targets that avoid, reduce or offset the full quantity of reservoir CO2 emissions (about 60.8 per cent of the project’s emissions) from start-up reflected this commitment.

The spokesman said the joint venture was providing responses to the matters raised in the appeals and the company was still targeting a final investment decision later this year.

Waitsia attracted controversy in July for being the only project exempt from a new domestic gas policy that bans the export of gas extracted from onshore wells to the eastern states and overseas.

That policy drew criticism from the peak oil and gas body APPEA over the state government’s lack of consultation with the wider industry, and raised questions about why the Mitsui and Kerry Stokes-backed Beach energy joint venture was the only onshore project to gain an exemption.

Hamish Hastie is WAtoday’s business reporter.

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