Woodside needs new seismic approval for Scarborough gas project
SYDNEY, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Australia's federal court on Thursday halted approval for Woodside to conduct seismic blasting under the seabed for its $12 billion Scarborough gas project after a legal challenge by an Indigenous woman.
The court's ruling marked another win for groups opposing fossil fuel developments, but a Woodside spokesperson said there would be no impact on the Scarborough project's target to produce its first liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargo in 2026.
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Raelene Cooper, a traditional custodian of the Murujuga land in Western Australia, filed a judicial review in August arguing the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) made an error in approving Woodside's seismic blasting as the company had not met the condition of properly consulting her.
Judge Craig Colvin agreed, saying NOPSEMA did not have the power to make the decision to accept the environmental plan since it did not consult all parties, and thus the approval was invalid and overturned, court documents showed.
"Cooper was a person who, under the terms of the conditions, was required to be consulted," Judge Colvin said.
NOPSEMA said it was reviewing the ruling to ensure future regulatory actions "are in accordance with the decision". The environmental plan will be returned for NOPSEMA's assessment again following the court's decision.
Woodside, Australia's No.1 independent oil and gas producer, said it would continue to work with NOPSEMA to have an accepted environment plan in place before commencing the seismic survey.
Seismic testing is used to map fossil fuel reserves under the seabed by blasting compressed air from a specially adapted ship. The noise from the blasts causes sound waves to bounce off the seabed back to sensors in the ship.
Cooper said she was deeply concerned about the seismic activity's impact on whales and turtles, which are of high cultural importance for her.
"I'm so elated. I want my mob back home to be empowered by this day today. This is bigger than me, it's about my people and our history," she said.
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Sonali Paul)