Three delegates have been appointed by the government in Western Australia to assess one of Australia’s biggest construction projects following the nullifying of an earlier approval of the development by the Supreme Court.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Western Australian Environment Minister Albert Jacob announced that former deputy secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Environment Gerard Early, group executive of energy at the CSIRO Dr Tom Hatton and newly appointed Environmental Protection Agency member Grant McLeod have been appointed to assess the $40-plus billion Browse Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) precinct proposed by Woodside and its partners at James Price Point just north of Broome on the north-west coast of Western Australia.
Jacob also said he had approved a decision made by the EPA to delegate its powers to assess the proposal under the Environment Protection Act 1986 to the new panel.
Set to involve resource exploration in a location expected to be one of Australia’s next major LNG production provinces, the original concept for the development involved a massive LNG processing plant at James Price Point at which gas from the Browse Basin about 425 kilometres offshore would have been processed.
While Woodside announced it would not be proceed with the development as it stood on grounds of commercial viability in April last year and would instead pursue less expensive development options, the proposal was recommended for approval (subject to 29 conditions) by the EPA three months later in July.
That approval, however, was set aside in the Supreme Court by Chief Justice Wayne Martin on the basis of conflict of interest among the EPA’s board members – three of whom had been allowed to attend meetings and participate for 44 months of the 48-month decision making process even though two had declared they held shares in Woodside as early as 2009 and another worked for Browse joint venture partner BHP.
That decision essentially forced the state government back to square one with regard to the project’s assessment.
Jacob said the delegates were well-respected.
“These three delegates had no involvement in the previous Browse assessment and recommendations to Government,” he said. “I am confident the delegates will provide a well-considered and impartial report on the proposal.”
Despite its significant economic benefits, the proposed development was highly controversial over environmental fears that it would create a 50 square kilometre ‘marine dead zone’ as well as concerns regarding potential damage to a large amount of fossils unique to the area.
Irrespective of any environmental approval or otherwise, however, the original proposal is unlikely to proceed following an announcement by Woodside and its partners last September of their intention to pursue options for use of floating LNG technology developed by Shell (one of the project partners) as a means of exploration as opposed to more expensive onshore development options.