Wooside Meg Oneill

Update 19 May 5pm (AEST): Woodside Petroleum has been accused of gaslighting the United Nations, the International Energy Agency, investor groups and the climate concerns of the community, at its “chaotic” annual general meeting today, where shareholders voted in favour of the fossil fuel giant merging with BHP. The combined entity is set to be one of the top 10 fossil fuel producers in the world.

Revelations that Woodside allegedly attempted to breach Australia’s international ocean protection commitments by proposing to dump a decommissioned oil rig off the coast of Western Australia have galvanised environmentalists against the company.  

The BHP merger will see shareholders saddled with $6.7 billion worth of decommissioning costs for fossil fuel infrastructure, according to a report Woodside released ahead of its London Stock Exchange listing. 

Almost half of its shareholders (44 per cent) of voters rejected the company’s first climate report ahead of the company’s annual general meeting in Perth on Thursday. 

Shareholders voted in favour of a $63 billion merger with BHP Petroleum at the AGM. 

According to our sources, the meeting was “chaotic”, with questions from investors, shareholders, environmental groups and the community. Indigenous groups demanded Woodside make a public apology for the destruction of more than 4000 pieces of cultural heritage in the 1970s. 

Woodside faces increasing criticism for its greenwashing and climate plan, which could expose the company and its investors to legal, ESG, and reputational repercussions.

“When grilled on their flimsy climate plan, Woodside’s leaders had no legitimate answers, because their business model rests solely on the aggressive expansion of fossil fuels,” David Ritter, chief executive officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific said.

“Woodside chair Richard Goyder seems to think his company, one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers, knows more about keeping the world’s climate trajectory under 1.5 degrees of warming than the United Nations.”

“Woodside chair Richard Goyder seems to think his company, one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers, knows more about keeping the world’s climate trajectory under 1.5 degrees of warming than the United Nations.

“Woodside chief Meg O’Neill went so far as to disregard the findings of a CSIRO report Woodside itself commissioned… This company seems to think it can flout climate science and deep community anxiety in pursuit of profit.”

Documents obtained by Greenpeace under Freedom of Information laws and from a public register reveal that the company, in partnership with a recreational fishing group, might have tried to implore the regulator and the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to enable a decommissioned riser turret mooring from its Enfield oil field to be dumped in Australian waters, close to the Ningaloo Reef.

Woodside’s merger explanatory memorandum to shareholders bases indicative decommissioning costs on the assumption that some of the offshore infrastructure will be dumped at sea.

The company previously recorded around $US2.1 billion ($A3 billion) for decommissioning liabilities, but this number was changed to $A6.7 billion as shareholder approval to purchase BHP’s petroleum assets went ahead. 

The assets include two ageing assets: a 50 per cent stake in ExxonMobil’s Gippsland operation and an additional one-sixth share of the North West Shelf LNG project operated by Woodside. 

A 2020 report from National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) concluded that there is currently more than $A50 billion of decommissioning work in Australia’s offshore fossil fuel infrastructure – half of which needs to commence within the next decade. 

Woodside’s explanatory memorandum to shareholders bases indicative decommissioning costs on the assumption that some of the offshore infrastructure will be dumped at sea, Dr Cosgrove said. 

The proposal included the dumping of a compartment, acknowledged to likely contain 295 kilograms of the internationally-recognised toxin, pentaBDE (PBDE), a substance highly toxic to marine life. The department estimated that once the PBDE escaped from the compartment, it could contaminate over 700 million tonnes of ocean sediment.

“Woodside’s been sprung red-handed trying to get around international law, going so far as to ask the Australian government to turn a blind eye to Australia’s long-standing international commitments to protect our oceans.”

This would directly contravene the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972 (the London Convention), an agreement which regulates the disposal of waste at sea.

The international treaty has been in force since 1975 to protect the marine environment from human activities. It states that vessels, platforms, man-made structures and bulky items may only be considered for dumping if pollutants are removed to the maximum extent, and that hazardous wastes must be assessed prior to dumping. 

Greenpeace chief executive officer David Ritter said the documents revealed a lack of regard for marine environments and international treaties.

“Woodside’s been sprung red-handed trying to get around international law, going so far as to ask the Australian government to turn a blind eye to Australia’s long-standing international commitments to protect our oceans,” he said.

“These revelations make it clear just how little Woodside cares about our precious oceans.”

In an amended proposal provided to the department, Woodside proposed dumping the full structure with this contaminated compartment detached for onshore disposal. However, no mitigation plans were provided for dealing with the contaminated compartment should the detachment and removal be unsuccessful.

Woodside’s climate plan has faced criticism from advisors Glass Lewis, the Investor Group on Climate Change, and Andrew Forrest, among others.

When decommissioning offshore oil and gas rigs, wells should be plugged and permanently closed off, equipment, infrastructure and property is removed safely and the environment is “restored”, according to the Australian government website.

That means “not dumping them into the ocean,” Dr Anita Cosgrove from Greenpeace Australia Pacific affirms.

Issues around the protection of cultural heritage have been thrown into sharp focus by Woodside’s highly controversial Scarborough gas proposal. Analysis indicates this project will produce 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions over the next 25 years.

To add to Woodside’s transgressions, during the AGM, Traditional Custodians from WA’s north west demanded Woodside make a public apology for the historic destruction of more than 4000 pieces of cultural heritage in the 1970s.

Kuruma Marthudunera woman, Josie Alec, and Mardudhunera woman, Raelene Cooper, both attended Woodside’s annual general meeting in person to issue a request for an apology from chief executive officer Meg O’Neill and chairman Richard Goyder.

“In the 1970s, Woodside destroyed between 4000 and 5000 pieces of rock art in the construction of the Karratha gas plant. Here, today, will you apologise for that destruction of our cultural heritage?”

“In the 1970s, Woodside destroyed between 4000 and 5000 pieces of rock art in the construction of the Karratha gas plant,” Ms Alec said.

“Here, today, will you apologise for that destruction of our cultural heritage?”

Issues around the protection of cultural heritage have been thrown into sharp focus by Woodside’s highly controversial Scarborough gas proposal. Analysis indicates this project will produce 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions over the next 25 years.

No wonder this AGM was slammed as “chaotic”…

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