Woodside faces further delays to its $40 billion Browse gas project after the Environmental Protection Authority signalled it would seek legal advice over bungled State Government efforts to compulsorily acquire land at James Price Point.
EPA chairman Paul Vogel spoke after Lands Minister Brendon Grylls admitted to botching the required land acquisition process for the Browse precinct for the second time in a year.
Although State environmental approval has already been given for the broader LNG precinct, Woodside needs a separate nod from the EPA for its plans to build a gas plant within it.
Those plans, a so-called “derived proposal”, were referred to the EPA in November, attracting more than 1800 public submissions.
“We will have to be assured that it doesn’t affect any decision by the EPA if we were to approve … a derived proposal,” Dr Vogel said, adding that he expected to know the authority’s position within weeks. “If it is wrong, they (Woodside) will be held up.”
The extra hurdle adds to the race against time for Woodside and its joint venture partners, who must decide whether the project is financially viable by mid next year.
The Government had launched the compulsory acquisition largely to head off any legal challenges to the gas hub project and give the companies involved certainty.
However, an initial bid to take the land was thrown out of the Supreme Court last year after it ruled the land to be acquired had not been adequately described.
The second attempt was scrapped and must be restarted after the Government this time failed to notify all the required parties, potentially adding months to the process.
“This is very disappointing and embarrassing for myself personally but that’s what’s happened,” Mr Grylls said on radio.
Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said the Government should never have pursued compulsory acquisition but it was inexcusable it had bungled the process twice.
“This is appalling management of a major sector of the State’s economy basically because the Government doesn’t know what it is doing,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Woodside said the “provision of land is a matter for the State” and the company was working towards a final investment decision before next July.
WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the Government should drop the acquisition proceedings rather than pursuing the hub at any cost.