WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Woodside Petroleum’s works on a proposed $30 billion Kimberley gas hub, where more than 100 riot police were shipped in recently to keep protesters away, may turn out to be illegal.
The Western Australian Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO) on Monday launched a civil case in the Supreme Court challenging Woodside’s approvals for the preliminary works.
The EDO’s action is on behalf of Goolarabooloo man Richard Hunter, a traditional owner of the James Price Point site, 60km north of Broome, where Woodside wants to build a major LNG processing plant.
West Australian police spent $1 million sending more than 140 riot police to the site earlier this month, in response to an peaceful protest by opponents of the gas hub.
The EDO has written to Woodside and the Shire of Broome on Monday giving them 48 hours to halt preliminary works before seeking a court injunction.
EDO principal solicitor Josie Walker said Monday’s action hinged on a decision by the Kimberley Joint Development Assessment Panel (KJDAP) to grant retrospective and new approvals to Woodside in February without the shire’s consent.
“That approval is invalid (because) the KJDAP hadn’t received a responsible authority report from the Shire of Broome,” she said.
“We’re suing Broome for somebody else making a decision on their behalf,” Ms Walker said.
“What we’ve suggested to the Shire of Broome is that they may not want to actively participate in the proceedings and let Woodside defend it in court.”
A Supreme Court ruling in the EDO’s favour would mean Woodside had committed an offence under the Planning Act, and the EDO would urge the state’s planning minister to prosecute it for doing unauthorised works, Ms Walker said.
Woodside said in a statement it was finalising engineering, site investigation and environmental studies before making “final investment decision in the first half of 2013″.
“Woodside has the relevant consents and approvals required for the current program of engineering and environmental studies within the Browse LNG precinct,” the company said.
It said it was “working closely with traditional owners to identify and carefully manage Aboriginal culture and heritage within the proposed LNG precinct (and) all activities in this area will be closely monitored” by them.
While some traditional owners have welcomed the development, others have challenged it in court, including Mr Hunter’s brother Joseph Roe.
WA Premier Colin Barnett has threatened to compulsorily acquire the site if it can’t be resolved.
WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan was heavily criticised for his decision to send riot officer to Broome earlier this month to protect Woodside convoys going to the site.