Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has denied he is delaying a decision on Woodside's controversial James Price Point gas hub until after the State election to avoid hurting Mark McGowan's campaign.
But in the wake of Woodside's partner Shell flagging last week preference for a floating platform in the Browse Basin, Mr Burke said processing the gas offshore would also pose fewer environmental hurdles than building a gas hub on land.
The time taken for Mr Burke to decide whether to approve the $40 billion project has prompted questions whether the minister is holding off making a decision on James Price Point to prevent a backlash against State Labor in the run-up to the March 9 poll.
Colin Barnett has pushed for the project to be built at James Price Point because it would create thousands of jobs in WA and also encourage the development of other gas fields off the Kimberley coast but environmental groups have campaigned against the development.
However, Mr Burke denied he had ordered a go-slow and said his department was still assessing the paperwork for the project from the WA Government.
"Regardless of the hysteria from the WA Premier, his election deadlines are irrelevant to my decision-making on that issue," Mr Burke said.
"What is relevant is there are some principles and minimum standards that the strategic assessment needs to meet. I'm waiting for advice from my department as to whether or not they've met it.
"If they've met it, I'll then make a decision, if they haven't then I'll then tell them to finish the job."
Mr Burke said for legal reasons, he could not prejudge whether a floating platform was preferable to developing James Price Point but pointed out that "in terms of environmental outcomes, a whole lot of the challenges that you deal with . . . on land don't apply when you're dealing with a floating platform in that way".
"Because of the way the strategic assessment was set up, the question that will come to me is not do I approve it, this particular one or not, in the first instance," he said.
"The key question for me will be one, have they met the terms of the strategic assessment and two, if they have, is this an appropriate location within the Kimberley?"
A $1.3 billion compensation package to be paid by oil companies to local Aboriginals would be in doubt if the project did not go ahead at James Price Point.But Mr Burke said while he took into account socio-economic issues, he was focused principally on the environmental impact.