Australian operator Woodside Petroleum says it will “vigorously defend” the latest legal challenge to its US$12 billion Scarborough gas development in Western Australia.

The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) revealed this week it had launched a second Supreme Court challenge relating to the recently sanctioned Scarborough development.

It follows a similar challenge late last year against the development’s environmental approvals, which will be heard in the Supreme Court next month.

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The latest proceedings challenge a decision by the WA government to issue a Works Approval for the expansion of the Pluto LNG development to allow processing of gas from the Scarborough field.

The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), which is acting for CCWA, will argue the granting of the Works Approval was unlawful as it “failed to properly consider and control the environmental harm generated by the development’s greenhouse gas emissions”.

The CCWA claims Scarborough will emit roughly 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over its 30-year lifetime.

However, Woodside's Scarborough offshore project proposal (OPP), which has been accepted by federal offshore energy regulator the National Offshore Petroleum Safety & Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema), places the estimated emissions from Scarborough much lower.

According to the OPP, emissions from the project are estimated at 878 million tonnes, including 778.5 million tonnes from Scope 3 emissions, which are generated from the use of the gas by the end customer.

"Any additional CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere increases the risk of bushfires, droughts, heatwaves and other climate-related phenomena which put communities at risk,” managing lawyer for the EDO, Tim Macknay, said.

“That is why governments and regulators – such as the CEO of the WA Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) – should be doing everything in their power to properly assess and control any additional greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the risks of climate related extreme weather events to the Australian people.

“The CEO of DWER has a clear power and obligation to assess and control risks of environmental harm from highly polluting industry during the approvals process. The Conservation Council will argue that this did not happen and therefore the approval - which was granted by the CEO - is invalid.”

Woodside released a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange on Tuesday in response to the CCWA's latest legal challenge, stating: “Woodside has complied with regulatory requirements and environmental processes in seeking and receiving its approvals. Woodside will vigorously defend its position.”

State government could step in

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan also indicated last week the state government could step in if legal challenges hold up the development of the Scarborough gas resources.

While saying he would let the court action run its course, McGowan would not rule out taking action if the court found the project's environmental approvals were invalid.

"We can't have scores of industries close down because of a court ruling, so the state government will do what it has to do to make sure industries stay open," he was quoted as saying by the ABC last week.

The Premier's comments drew criticism from the CCWA, calling on McGowan to clarify his comments suggesting he would be prepared to "step in" if the court case did not go in favour of Woodside's development plans.

“We have taken this legal action in good faith. CCWA is simply trying to ensure that the law is followed by Woodside and the state government when it comes to environmental assessment of this project," the CCWA said last week.

“All we are asking is that the environmental impacts of this development are assessed according to the requirements of the law, like any other major project in WA.

“If Woodside and the EPA can simply ignore our environmental laws, knowing that the premier will step in to facilitate climate wrecking projects like Scarborough then what is the purpose of those laws?"

Western Australia's Premier Mark McGowan Photo: APPEA

Development plan

The Scarborough field lies about 375 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia and is estimated to contain 11.1 trillion cubic feet of dry gas.

The development includes the installation of a floating production unit in a water depth of 950 metres, as well as a roughly 430 kilometre trunkline to transport the gas to the Pluto LNG facility.

The first phase of development will see the drilling of eight subsea high-rate gas wells, with a total of 13 wells planned to be drilled over the life of the field.

The development is also underpinning the 5 million tonne per annum expansion train at the Pluto LNG facility.