Scarborough Gas Field and Burrup Hub
Location:Burrup Peninsula, State of Western Australia, Australia
Project risks:Environmental Destruction, Litigation, Social Harm
Gas Producers Move Fast to Destroy Aboriginal Heritage and Underwater Life
If not stopped, a gas project with a 50-year life span will destroy 40,000-year-old Aboriginal rock
art. The project also threatens dolphins, whales and colorful coral reefs. In Australia’s remote North-West on the Burrup Peninsula, the Australian company Woodside wants to start up the country’s most emission-heavy new fossil fuel project: Burrup Hub.
Burrup Hub is one of Woodside’s most important projects. The company and its gas partners want to develop 2 new gas fields off the shore: Scarborough and Browse. They also plan to build 2 pipelines from the gas fields to 2 already existing liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals on the
coast. Burrup Hub would add to Woodside’s 2 operating offshore gas fields North West Shelf and Pluto. Woodside also wants to extend North West Shelf’s lifetime until 2070.
In November 2021, Woodside made its final investment decision to develop the first component of the Burrup Hub: Scarborough Gas Field. 375 km (233 mi) off the coast, Woodside plans to drill 8 wells into the seafloor. Besides Woodside, the Australian company BHP pushed the Burrup hub projects forward over many years. However, as of 1 June 2022, Woodside took over BHP’s entire oil and gas business, including its stake in the Burrup hub endeavor. By 2026, Woodside and its remaining partners want to produce gas from Scarborough. They would pump the gas through a 430 km (267 mi) long pipeline to the onshore Pluto LNG terminal. In this facility, Woodside would cool the gas down to -162 °C (-259.6 °F) to liquefy it. Woodside has also started to expand the existing Pluto LNG facility to double its current size. Enormous carriers would then ship the Scarborough gas in liquefied form from Pluto LNG to Asia and even as far as Europe. The most important buyers of this fossil gas are German utilities RWE and Fortum’s Uniper as well as Australian fertilizer producer Perdaman Industries. Uniper, RWE and Perdaman give Woodside financial security. Without them, the project might not have moved ahead. However, the skyrocketing gas prices in 2022 encourage many countries to switch to more cost-efficient renewable power sources. This means Scarborough might not pay off in the long term.12297
In October 2022, EIG Global Energy Partners announced that its subsidiary MidOcean Energy would acquire all Tokyo Gas' interests in Australian LNG projects. This includes the company's stakes in the Pluto LNG project. The deal will be completed in 2023.
Scarborough Endangers Animals Every Step Along the Way
At Scarborough, Woodside wants to produce gas exactly where turtles, sea snakes, dugongs, sawfish, dolphins, whales and sharks glide through the sea. The company’s quest for gas is putting these sea creatures and their home at risk.
Before Woodside is able to produce gas from Scarborough, it needs to detect the exact location and measure the size of the gas reserve. Therefore, the company wants to do numerous seismic surveys in the course of 2022 and 2023. Woodside's seismic surveys will blast soundwaves to the bottom of the ocean every 8-15 seconds for 80 days. These activities are a nightmare for whales, dugongs, dolphins and all other animals under water. The blasts are as loud as a rocket launch. They stop the animals from eating and mating. At worst, animals can lose their orientation and hearing. Some may even die from the blasts.
To make space for the gas wells, Woodside plans to scrape millions of tons of corals, rocks, mud and clay from the seabed. The company wants to dump the material in the Dampier Archipelago, a group of 42 islands in the Indian Ocean. The Archipelago’s biodiversity is as great as the Great Barrier Reef’s. Colorful coral reefs, sponge gardens and sea grass meadows cover the seafloor of the Dampier Archipelago. More than 650 fish species swim through this underwater world. Islands with sandy beaches and mangroves rise from the turquoise sea. For Woodside, this paradise is merely a place to dump its waste.
Woodside’s gas pipeline would cut through the protected Montebello Marine Park. Whale sharks – the largest fish species alive – hunt for food here. Every year between June and November, humpback whales travel through the Park. The animals cross it as they swim north where they will have their babies and raise them. Generations of humpback whales have used this same route for thousands of years. The construction noise for the pipeline and gigantic LNG tankers would soon disorientate and confuse the whales.
Scarborough is only the first component of Woodside’s massive Burrup Hub project. If the second planned gas field – Browse – went ahead, Woodside would also drill 54 wells in and around the unique Scott Reef. It is the largest reef in Western Australia and home to over 60 animal species that are on the IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list.
Normal operation of Woodside’s project would already be disastrous for the coral reefs, dolphins, dugongs, whales, turtles and all other animals. But if Woodside caused a gas spill, the marine life would be directly in the firing line. Woodside has proved time and again that it is prone to accidents. In 2016, the company had already spilled oil off the coast of the Burrup Peninsula. Woodside could not stop the spill for 2 months. Adding to the disaster, the company only informed the public more than a year later.
Woodside’s Acidic Emissions Erase Traces of Humankind
Woodside's huge gas project would also destroy the world’s oldest Aboriginal rock art. The Pluto LNG terminal is located on the Burrup Peninsula. This Peninsula is of immeasurable value to Australia’s First Nations people. They call the Burrup Peninsula Murujuga. In their traditional Ngayarda languages, Murujuga stands for “hip bone sticking out” and describes the shape of the Peninsula.
Murujuga is the only place on Earth where people continuously recorded their story and changing environment through art. More than 40,000 years ago, Aboriginal people carved over 1 million drawings on cliffs and stones. They drew their stories, customs and everyday life: Aboriginal ceremonies, long extinct animals like the Tasmanian tiger, the very first sightings of European ships and road maps to navigate to sacred sites. It is here that archeologists have found the world’s oldest image of a human face.
Today, Murujuga is one of the oldest and largest areas of Aboriginal rock art on Earth. The “stories from the stones” may be thousands of years old, but continue to be important to Aboriginal peoples. The rock art ties them to their stories, customs and knowledge of their land and resources.
It connects them to the events and people of their past and is the base of their beliefs today.
Woodside’s Scarborough project could erase this sacred Aboriginal art gallery. Already in 2006 and 2007, Woodside removed 941 rocks with carvings to make space for Pluto LNG. Now, Woodside’s emissions are threatening the rock art’s very existence. Its Pluto LNG terminal fouls the air with nitrogen oxides. As small particles, the nitrogen oxides settle on the rocks and make their surface more acidic. Over time, they dissolve the outer layer of the rocks. This layer has protected the Aboriginal art for millennia. Without the outer protective layer, it is only a matter of time until Woodside’s acidic emissions eat away the drawings forever.
In July 2020, archeologists also discovered a unique cultural landscape off the coast of the Burrup Peninsula. They found hundreds of Aboriginal stone tools and grindstones on the seabed.
These are from a time when sea levels were lower and Aboriginal people lived in this area. This find was another proof of the archeological importance of the Burrup Peninsula and its surrounding waters.
Experts pressured the Australian government for 2 years to protect both Aboriginal legacies as World Heritage Sites. The decision whether they will become World Heritage will not come before 2023. Until Murujuga and the cultural landscape under water are officially World Heritage, Woodside can continue to threaten these unique pieces of Australian history.
"This is our pyramids of Egypt, right here in the Burrup, and it's been there for years and years."
Aboriginal Ngarluma woman Camelia Samson when she spoke out against Woodside’s project.
Australia’s Most Polluting New Fossil Fuel Project
Scarborough alone would release as much greenhouse gas emissions as 20,000 planes flying around the world every day for the next 25 years. Over its lifetime, total emissions from the whole Burrup Hub would be 11 times as high as Australia’s total annual carbon emissions. Woodside claims that the Scarborough project could help replace coal with gas in Asia and thereby reduce the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions. After a study commissioned by the company itself dismissed this claim, the company tried to hide the findings from the public. Only thanks to tireless journalists, the report finally came out.12299
To stop Woodside’s carbon bomb, NGOs and activists have started a resistance campaign. Thousands of people are fighting Woodside with blockades and protests on the streets. The Australian Conservation Foundation is keeping Woodside executives on their toes with a legal action to halt the Scarborough gas project.12301 Moreover, the Australian Green party opposes Woodside’s project. It has vowed to use its balance power in parliament to end Australian fossil projects.12303
The Traditional Owners of Murujuga are demanding that Woodside halts investments in the project until they can give their free, prior and informed consent. Woodside has made indigenous organizations economically dependent of the company. So-called gag clauses in the funding agreements prevents people from speaking up.12305 While the indigenous people of Murujuga struggle to free themselves from Woodside’s grip, the company continues to develop its monstrous gas project.
Woodside wants to turn Western Australia’s iconic underwater world into industrial landscape, and sacred Aboriginal art into nothing but rocks. Construction has only just started at Scarborough. There is still time to stop Woodside.
Groups working on Scarborough and Burrup Hub: Save the Burrup – Save our Songlines, CCWA, Clean State, 350 Australia, Greenpeace Australia, Australian Marine Conservation Society, Market Forces, Friends of Australian Rock Art, Extinction Rebellion Western Australia, Australia Institute, Sea Shepherd