Woodside testing blocked
Woodside's ambitious gas project off Western Australia's northern coast has hit a snag.
The company, earlier granted approval for seismic testing, now faces opposition from the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), which argues that proper consultation with indigenous communities wasn't conducted.
The approved seismic testing, involving powerful underwater blasts to locate gas reserves for the Scarborough project, has raised concerns among scientists about its potential harm to marine life, particularly whale feeding grounds.
Representing Mardudhunera woman Raelene Cooper, the EDO contends that Woodside failed to adequately consult with her and other traditional landowners before the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) granted approval for testing.
Initially scheduled to commence last week, the seismic testing was delayed after the case landed in the Federal Court.
The recent hearing aimed to decide whether testing could proceed before a full trial in late October.
Federal Court Judge Craig Colvin says there could be significant consequences for Ms. Cooper's community, and that these concerns could not be measured merely in financial terms or compensation.
Consequently, Woodside is temporarily barred from conducting testing until a further hearing in late September.
The EDO's lawyer, Laura Hilly, clarified that Ms Cooper did not seek to prevent testing entirely but insisted on proper consultation regarding the environmental and cultural risks associated with it.
Hilly pointed out that Woodside's environmental plan could not address Ms Cooper's concerns because “Woodside does not yet know” what those concerns are.
This lack of awareness was highlighted by affidavits from Woodside employees who acknowledged learning about some of Ms. Cooper's concerns only through her legal team's documents.
Woodside argues that it has already minimised testing risks to the extent possible and that the EDO's requests exceeded legal requirements.
The company's lawyer, Stephen Penglis, says substantial financial costs will be incurred during the delay and suggested that even if Ms Cooper's case succeeded, it would only postpone Woodside's activities.
Speaking outside the court, Ms Cooper expressed her elation over the decision, emphasising the case's importance in protecting animals and cultural heritage.
Woodside, in response, acknowledged the injunction and welcomed the court's proposal for a further hearing in late September.
Justice Colvin underscored the need for a swift resolution to avoid substantial costs and delays for Woodside.