The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has started legal proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia relating to the environmental assessment of Woodside Energy’s giant Scarborough gas field development, seeking an injunction to restrain the operator’s offshore activities for this project.

The ACF wants the gas project offshore Western Australia halted until its impact on the Great Barrier Reef is assessed, with the foundation claiming Scarborough would cause an estimated 1.37 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution over the next 25 years.

“Although the gas would be extracted off the coast of WA and much of it burned overseas, it would affect the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland by fuelling climate change, which is causing repeated coral bleaching events on the reef,” the ACF said.

Woodside pointed out that Scarborough has been the subject of rigorous environmental assessments by a range of regulators including the National Offshore Petroleum Safety & Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema); the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment; and the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority.

“The Scarborough project is under way and proceeding to schedule after receiving all primary environmental approvals,” Woodside chief executive Meg O’Neill said.

The ACF countered that Scarborough has never been approved under Australia’s environment protection law because projects assessed by Nopsema are exempt from the national environment law.

However, that exemption does not apply if an offshore project is likely to have a significant impact on the World or National Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef, the foundation said.

Climate bomb

“Scarborough’s gas is a climate bomb about to be detonated,” ACF chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said.

“If it goes ahead, the Scarborough gas mine [sic] and its Pluto extension will produce vast quantities of climate-heating gas for the next quarter of a century.

“It would result in annual climate pollution equal to more than the annual pollution from 15 coal-fired power stations and release 1.37 billion tonnes of carbon over the next 25 years.”

O’Shanassy added that if its legal action relating to the Scarborough project were successful, it would be “highly influential” in establishing that all new fossil fuel projects must be assessed for the climate damage they would cause if they went ahead.

Scarborough, located some 375 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia, contains an estimated 11.1 trillion cubic feet of dry gas with only 0.1% carbon dioxide.

The field will be exploited via a floating production unit with eight wells drilled in the initial phase and 13 wells drilled over the entire life of the field.

Scarborough’s produced gas will be delivered to Woodside’s Pluto liquefied natural gas project via a new approximate 430-kilometre trunkline.

McDermott is constructing the FPU; Subsea Integration Alliance will supply subsea hardware, risers and flowlines; and Valaris will perform the development drilling.

Woodside has contracted Europipe for the trunk line pipe that will be installed by Saipem, while ABL will provide marine warranty services for construction, transportation and installation work.

Initial LNG exports from Scarborough’s feed gas are targeted for 2026.

“The project will deliver significant local and national benefits in the form of employment, tax revenue and reliable gas supply in the energy transition for decades to come,” added O’Neill.

“Woodside will vigorously defend its position in these proceedings.”

The ACF on Tuesday filed originating documents with the Federal Court in Melbourne.

The foundation will be represented in court by Richard Beasley SC, David Hume and Matthew Pudovskis alongside lawyers from the Environmental Defenders Office.