Scarborough Gas Field and Burrup Hub

Location:

Burrup Peninsula, State of Western Australia, Australia

Project risks:

Environmental Destruction, Litigation, Social Harm

Companies:

  • Woodside Petroleum Ltd
  • BHP Group Ltd
  • Global Infrastructure Partners
  • Royal Dutch Shell plc
  • BP plc
  • Mitsubishi Corporation
  • Mitsui & Co Ltd
  • PetroChina Company Ltd
  • China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC)
  • Chevron Corporation
  • CNOOC Ltd
  • The Kansai Electric Power Company Inc (KEPCO)
  • Tokyo Gas Co Ltd
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exact location

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.[1] [2] The project also threatens dolphins, whales and colorful coral reefs.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] [6] They also plan to build 2 pipelines from the gas fields to 2 already existing liquefied fossil gas (LNG) terminals on the
coast.[7] [8] [9] Burrup Hub would add to Woodside’s 2 operating offshore gas fields North West Shelf and Pluto.[10] Woodside also wants to extend North West Shelf’s lifetime until 2070.[11]

In November 2021, Woodside made its final investment decision to develop the first component of the Burrup Hub: Scarborough Gas Field.[12] 375 km (233 mi) off the coast, Woodside and BHP plan to drill 8 wells into the seafloor.[13] By 2026, the companies want to produce gas from Scarborough.[14] They would pump the gas through a 430 km (267 mi) long pipeline to the onshore Pluto LNG terminal.[15]
In this facility, Woodside would cool the gas down to -162°C (-259.6 °F) to liquefy it.[16] Woodside also wants to expand the existing Pluto LNG facility to double its current size.[17] Enormous tankers would then ship the liquefied fossil gas to Asia and even as far as Europe.[18] [19] The buyers of this gas are German utilities RWE and Fortum’s Uniper as well as Australian fertilizer producer Perdaman
Industries.[20] [21] [22] Uniper, RWE and Perdaman give Woodside financial security.[23] Without them, the project might not have moved ahead.[24]



 

 

 

 

     

Notice:

On August 17, 2021, BHP and Woodside announced that BHP will sell its oil and gas interests, including its interest in Scarborough, to Woodside.[25] They plan to complete this transaction by July 1, 2022.[26]

The Burrup Hub would be located on the Burrup Peninsula in North-West Australia. Credit: CCWA

Scarborough Endangers Animals Every Step Along the Project

At Scarborough, Woodside wants to produce gas exactly where turtles, sea snakes, dugongs, sawfish, dolphins, whales and sharks glide through the sea.[27] 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.[28] Therefore, the company plans to do numerous seismic surveys in 2022 and 2023.[29] Woodside would blast soundwaves every 8-15 seconds to the bottom of the ocean for 80 days.[30] [31] The company would then analyze the echo from the seafloor.[32] Seismic surveys are a nightmare for whales, dugongs, dolphins and all other animals under water. The blasts are as loud as a rocket launch.[33] They stop the animals from eating and mating.[34] In the worst case, animals can lose their orientation and hearing.[35] [36] Some may even die from the blasts.[37]

Dugongs and many other animals live where Woodside wants to develop its huge gas project. Credit: Vkilikov, Dreamstime.com

To make space for the gas wells, Woodside plans to scrape millions of tons of corals, rocks, mud and clay from the seabed.[38] The company wants to dump the material in the Dampier Archipelago, a group of 42 islands in the Indian Ocean.[39] [40] The Archipelago’s biodiversity is as great as the Great Barrier Reef’s.[41] [42] Colorful coral reefs, sponge gardens and sea grass meadows cover the seafloor of the Dampier Archipelago.[43] More than 650 fish species swim through this underwater world.[44] Islands with sandy beaches and mangroves rise from the turquoise sea.[45] For Woodside, this paradise is solely a place to dump its waste.

Woodside’s gas pipeline would cut through the protected Montebello Marine Park.[46] Whale sharks – the largest fish species alive – hunt for food here.[47] [48] Every year between June and November, humpback whales travel through the Park.[49] The animals cross it as they swim north where they will have their babies and raise them.[50] Generations of humpback whales have used this same route for thousands of years.[51] The construction noise for the pipeline and gigantic LNG tankers would soon disorientate and confuse the whales.[52]

Scarborough is only the first component of Woodside’s massive Burrup Hub project.[53] If the second planned gas field – Browse – went ahead, Woodside would also drill 54 wells in and around the unique Scott Reef.[54] [55] 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.[56] [57]

Woodside’s Burrup Hub would also threaten the beautiful Scott Reef. Credit: Scott Steindorf

Normal operation of Woodside’s project would already be disastrous for the coral reefs, dolphins, dugongs, whales, turtles and all other animals.[58] But if Woodside caused a gas spill, the marine life would be directly in the firing line.[59] Woodside has proved time and again that it is prone to accidents.[60] In 2016, the company had already spilled oil off the coast of the Burrup Peninsula. Woodside could not stop the spill for 2 months.[61] The company also only informed the public more than a year later.[62]

Woodside did not inform the public of its 2016 oil spill for over a year. Credit: dehooks

Woodside’s Acidic Emissions Erase Traces of Humankind

Woodside's huge gas project would also destroy the world’s oldest Aboriginal rock art.[63] The Pluto LNG terminal is located on the Burrup Peninsula.[64] This Peninsula is of immeasurable value to Australia’s First Nations people.[65] They call the Burrup Peninsula Murujuga.[66] In their traditional Ngayarda languages, Murujuga stands for “hip bone sticking out” and describes the shape of the Peninsula.[67]

Murujuga is the only place on Earth where people continuously recorded their story and changing environment through art.[68] More than 40,000 years ago, Aboriginal people carved over 1 million drawings on cliffs and stones.[69] 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.[70] [71] [72] It is here that archeologists have found the world’s oldest image of a human face.[73]

Today, Murujuga is one of the oldest and largest areas of Aboriginal rock art on Earth.[74] The “stories from the stones” may be thousands of years old, but continue to be important to Aboriginal peoples.[75] The rock art ties them to their stories, customs and knowledge of their land and resources.[76]
It connects them to the events and people of their past and is the base of their beliefs today.[77]

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.[79] Now, Woodside’s emissions are threatening the rock art’s very existence.[80] Its Pluto LNG terminal fouls the air with nitrogen oxides.[81] As small particles, the nitrogen oxides settle on the rocks and make their surface more acidic.[82] Over time, they dissolve the outer layer of the rocks.[83] This layer has protected the Aboriginal art for millennia.[84] Without the outer protective layer, it is only a matter of time until Woodside’s acidic emissions eat away the drawings forever.[85]

In July 2020, archeologists also discovered a unique cultural landscape off the coast of the Burrup Peninsula.[86] They found hundreds of Aboriginal stone tools and grindstones on the seabed.[87]
These are from a time when sea levels were lower and Aboriginal people lived in this area.[88] 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.[89] The decision whether they will become World Heritage will not come before 2023.[90] 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.[78]

     

The acidic emissions from Woodside’s gas project in the background are threatening the millennia-old Murujuga rock art. Credit: Marius Fenger, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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.[91] Over its lifetime, total emissions from the whole Burrup Hub would be 11 times as high as Australia’s total annual carbon emissions.[92]

To stop Woodside’s carbon bomb, NGOs and activists have started a resistance campaign.[93] Thousands of people are fighting Woodside with blockades and protests on the streets.[94] The NGO Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA) is currently keeping Woodside busy with legal actions. They are urging Woodside and the Australian minister of the environment to reconsider Scarborough’s climate impact.[95] In addition, CCWA is taking Woodside to court over its expansion of Pluto LNG.[96]

Woodside wants to turn Western Australia’s iconic underwater world into industrial landscape, and sacred Aboriginal art into nothing but rocks. So far, Woodside has not drilled any wells and not put a single pipe on the seafloor.[97] [98] Now is the time to stop Woodside.

Protesters are resisting Woodside’s Scarborough project in Perth. Credit: 350Perth

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

Sources: