The environmental approval for a now-cancelled multi-billion gas construction project in the north-west of Australia has been declared unlawful.

The environmental approval for a now-cancelled $40 billion plus gas construction project in the north-west of Australia has been declared unlawful.

Western Australia Chief Justice Wayne Martin yesterday handed down a verdict in which he said approvals granted for the Browse LNG project previously proposed at James Price Point north of Broome were not valid.

In his judgement, Martin agreed with arguments put forward by the Wilderness Society and aboriginal elder Richard Hunter that conflicts of interest within the Environmental Protection Authority assessment process had resulted in just one board member – chairman Paul Vogel – making the final decision and that the state’s then-environment minister Bill Marmion had erred in granting his approval despite the conflicts.

“The minister’s statement that the Browse LNG Precinct proposal could be implemented subject to conditions was not a valid exercise of the powers conferred upon the minister” the judgment read.

Originally proposed by a joint venture including Woodside Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Japan Australia LNG and BHP Billiton, the project’s original plan included construction of an onshore LNG Plant at James Price Point which would have processed natural gas extracted from offshore in the Browse Basin and a port facility from which gas would be exported as LNG.

The project was shelved in April amid cost concerns, with the joint venture partners indicating they would look at other alternatives for gas processing, including processing gas offshore using a floating facility.

Despite its economic benefits, the project was seen by environmentalists as a threat to pristine coastline and a number of species including whales, dolphins, turtles, dugongs and sawfish who use the area as a migratory pathway.

Newspaper reports also suggested construction would irreparably damage large amounts of fossils in the area, including dinosaurs.

Peter Robertson, WA State Manager at The Wilderness Society, says the project is now ‘dead and buried’, and has called on both Vogel and Marmion to resign.

“Premier Colin Barnett must face facts, drop this unhealthy obsession [to back the plant]” Robertson says.

“I believe Mr Vogel made a fatal error and his position as chairman of the EPA should be brought into question.

“I would say the same thing about the minister – he was told at the time this decision was likely to be unlawful and he ignored that, and that is on his head.”

Calling the decision ‘regrettable’, however, WA Premiere Colin Barnett says the judgement relates to process rather than the project’s environmental credentials.

Barnett says the state will most likely resubmit the environmental evidence and recommendations on conditions attached to the precinct’s development.