City Beach Action in December 2018. Photo credit: Simon Stevens

Woodside’s huge gas project in the Browse Basin has been dubbed Western Australia’s Adani. Now a huge battle is looming to get the state government to force the EPA to back down on its position on emissions offsets.

The Western Australian Environmental Protection Agency wants the gas industry to clean up its act and address the real impacts of its activities.

It’s currently holding public consultation on a new Greenhouse Gas Emissions Assessment Guidance for major projects in the state, and the liquefied natural gas industry is singled out as one that needs to be addressed.

The EPA has drawn lines in the sand. It wants any proposed or current substantial fossil fuel industry project to offset its emissions including the scope 3 emissions generated by end users.

And it wants those offsets to be generated by projects within WA and certified as meeting the standards of the National Carbon Offset Scheme.

The WA EPA says the state’s emissions have been soaring, mostly because of growth in the LNG industry. It also warns that this rising miasma of planet-warming methane and CO2 is compromising the nation’s ability to meet the Paris targets.

According to the Conservation Council the gas industry has been hitting back. WA director Piers Verstegen told The Fifth Estate the gas industry has been lobbying the government to force the EPA to back down.

It is also working hard at getting new projects across the line, such as the Woodside project in the Browse Basin,  currently seeking environmental approval.

Verstegen says the Browse Basin is “our Adani in WA.”

“It hasn’t attracted that level of public engagement but that’s likely to change because the amount of emissions are enormous.”

He says the government is “strongly supportive” of the development, and that the proponent, Woodside, has been at loggerheads with the EPA because the requirement of full offsets would place investment in the project at risk.

“There’s a long history of governments trying to get the Browse Basin project off the ground.”

Previous attempts have failed due to large environmental campaigns and legal action which made the projects “too risky and problematic” for investors.

The plan would see a new 900 kilometre pipeline connect with existing LNG facilities on the Pilbara Coast. This alone would greatly increase the carbon footprint because of the huge energy to pump gas over this distance.

Verstegen says the pipeline project may be “approved by stealth” as it has been converted into several smaller projects that are not subject to public consultation.

The EPA’s offset requirements are actually a lifeline to the gas industry

He says that the EPA guidelines requirement for offsets would, in effect, be a “lifeline for the gas industry”, allowing them to go ahead when “…really we should be drawing a line under all new fossil fuel development.”

He says the Conservation Council’s position is that offsets need to be used to deal with emissions from existing sources – not to justify supporting new emissions sources.

The industry has no plans to bow out gracefully.

Verstegen says it’s has been undertaking a “quite misleading and deceptive campaign,” and that there’s no evidence to substantiate it’s claim that gas is a “transition fuel”.

“These claims need to be put to the test and the way to do that is to do environmental impact assessments – if they are displacing coal it must satisfy standards for mitigation.”

There is also more growth “locked into the system”. This includes two Chevron projects coming online.

The impact of existing facilities has also yet to be seen in terms of carbon accounting, but it’s expected to show an increase.

“This is an ongoing disaster of West Australian emissions driving up Australian carbon pollution.”

The WA EPA’s consultation closes Monday 2 September 2019. Read the draft guidelines and have your say here.

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