3 April 2024

Commonwealth department approves major part of Santos' Barossa gas export project

| James Day
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An oil refinery on the Burrup peninsula.

An open letter to the Environment Minister claims the expansion is a threat to sacred Murujuga rock art. Photo: Save the Burrup – Save our Songlines.

Despite a host of political heavyweights urging Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to oppose Woodside Energy’s expansion of its Burrup Hub gas project, the Federal Government has approved the Darwin Pipeline Duplication project.

In a letter sent to Ms Plibersek on 15 March, more than 40 prominent Australians including senior Murujuga elders, esteemed scientists, cultural figures and politicians called for the major part of Santos’ Barossa gas export project to be denied.

It came a week after the Australian Conservation Foundation’s report on the expansion, which includes the Browse and Scarborough gas fields, and the expanded Pluto and Karratha gas plants. The report stated total emissions from the project would generate six billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and make it the largest new fossil fuel project in the Southern Hemisphere.

The letter describes how the expansion might impact the climate and sacred Murujuga rock art, which early last month was formally accepted by UNESCO to be nominated for its world heritage status.

The government’s approval was made on the same day the letter was sent but was only published on the Environment Department’s website at 5:15 pm on 27 March, shortly before the Easter holidays and at the end of the parliamentary week.

Research Director of The Australian Institute, Rod Campbell, said the rapid project approval was a classic case of the government taking out the trash.

“The Santos Barossa Project is the dirtiest gas project in Australia and should not proceed on climate grounds alone,” said Mr Campbell. “But Barossa is even worse than other gas projects, not just due to its CO2 content, but because of the staunch opposition of Tiwi Island traditional owners.

“The Federal Government has already bent over backwards for this project, rushing its ‘favour for Santos’ Bill through the parliament late last year with the support of the Liberal-National Coalition.

“Any government that was serious about climate, traditional owner consultation, relations with the Pacific and basic integrity would not have approved this project.”

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The open letter, calling for Ms Plibersek to reject Woodside’s application to extend the life of the North West Shelf (Karratha Gas Plant) until 2070, was signed by a former ALP federal opposition leader, former ALP national secretary and two former ALP premiers of Western Australia.

The letter claimed the emissions generated would threaten Australia’s global climate obligations and irreversibly hasten the erosion of the Murujuga rock art sites.

The WA Government announced last year there would be no further new greenfield development on the Burrup Peninsula. The letter claims these emissions would endanger the Murujuga Cultural Landscape from becoming the second site in Australia listed for World Heritage Status linked to First Nations cultural heritage.

“The Murujuga cultural landscape contains over 1 million unique and ancient petroglyphs, making it the largest and oldest outdoor art gallery on Earth,” reads the letter. “The outdated North West Shelf facility is by far the largest contributor to the pollution load.

“This pollution, and the ongoing presence and proliferation of heavy industry on the Burrup is a fundamental threat to both the heritage values and the success of the proposed Murujuga World Heritage listing.”

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Former WA premier, Carmen Lawrence, said just like the Hawke Labor government stood up to the Franklin Dam proposal in 1983, the Albanese Labor Government had an opportunity to stand up for the national interest rather than Woodside’s interests.

Along with other signatories, Senior Yindjibarndi elder, Tootsie Daniel, said there must be an independent assessment of the heritage impacts that meets the requirements of Commonwealth legislation.

“Murujuga is very important,” he said. “It is a gathering place where the people have always come together.

“When I go there I hear the voices of my ancestors. The land is alive. The Country is alive. We want people to respect it.

“Nothing is to be touched. Nothing is to be removed. The site is important and it’s very dangerous to do anything to it.”

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