Australian mining magnate Dr Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has unleashed a scathing verbal attack on rival Woodside’s fossil fuel expansion off the Western Australian coast. In a 10 minute video provided to Yahoo, the billionaire businessman warned emissions from the energy giant's projects around the Burrup Peninsula risk “destroying our own children’s future”.
Wearing a shirt with the logo of his Minderoo Foundation, Forrest also revealed his scientists had quietly monitored Woodside’s controversial offshore seismic testing at the site – as he suspects the large underwater blasts could be harming fish and whales.
But it's Woodside's emissions that spark the most scathing language from Forrest. “Australia's biggest carbon dioxide bomb... impacting everyone on Earth” is how he describes the Scarborough and Browse gas ventures, and the decision to extend the life of its North West Shelf gas project by almost 50 years. If fully realised, they could emit a combined 6.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the environment, according to one estimate.
Forrest believes the impact of these Burrup Peninsula projects on the climate was not adequately assessed before they were green-lit. “It will become a feeding-fest, a furious zone of oil and gas development completely ignoring what's happened at COP28,” he argues.
His accusations were rebuffed by Woodside. When approached by Yahoo it pointed a finger back at Forrest’s own investments in gas distribution. “Please ask Mr Forrest why his company Squadron Energy is pursuing the Port Kembla Energy Terminal,” it said.
Forrest's covert mission to monitor whales in blast zone
Whales have evidently been occupying Forrest's mind. While most of us were celebrating with family over the festive season, the iron ore mining magnate turned green-energy investor joined his Minderoo Foundation scientists to covertly monitor the presence of marine life as Woodside completed seismic blasting off the Pilbara coast for its Scarborough gas project.
"This sound shock is impacting life. We don't know the cumulative effect of that impact. It's never been studied," said Forrest, who has a doctorate in marine ecology.
Seismic testing is undertaken to detect reservoirs of undersea gas by shooting air at the ocean floor. Some scientists have raised concerns about its impact on marine species as sound travels further and faster underwater. It’s believed blasts can at least temporarily impact the hearing behaviour and communication of some cetaceans. And there are concerns they could actually deafen individuals within a kilometre of detonation. Woodside does not agree that its seismic blasts impact marine life.
Timing of seismic testing questioned
Forrest accused Woodside of trying to “jam through” seismic tests over the Christmas and New Year period. But Woodside says its ships simply commenced testing the day after approval was given by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) on November 30, and it continued throughout December.
Endangered pygmy blue whales migrate close to its blast site, but Woodside submitted analysis to NOPSEMA in October that claimed only one whale had come close, and that it would discharge explosions 25km from their migration path.
Despite its stated concerns, Minderoo Foundation has yet to reveal the findings of its own passive acoustic monitoring around the blast site.
Is Forrest's green energy U-turn real?
2023 was likely the hottest in 100,000 years with scientific consensus pointing to the burning of coal and gas as the major reason our climate is changing.
Some of Forrest's competitors, who are expanding their extraction of fossil fuels, question what's motivating his attacks on the industry. They note his companies Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) and Squadron Energy have a continued presence in polluting industries. Emissions from FMG were almost 259 million tonnes in 2022, dwarfing Woodside's reported 65 million tonnes.
Looking forward, FMG is currently taking a faster pathway to net zero emissions than Woodside, aiming to beat its competitor's 2050 target by a full decade. While Forrest has previously found financial success investing in industries that harm the environment, he now claims to be changing direction and embracing green energies — something he was vocal about at the COP28 climate talks.
Why Woodside is questioning Forrest's claims
Woodside was quick to respond to the outspoken businessman's criticisms of its gas expansion. “Woodside supplies energy to domestic and international customers who need it, just as Mr Forrest’s Squadron Energy is planning to do,” it said.
Woodside is referring to Squadron Energy's Port Kembla Energy port which is designed to store more than 70 per cent of the gas needed for NSW.
Although his company is storing gas to generate power needed for the homes of today, Forrest doesn’t believe any new extraction projects should be permitted as they will emit carbon into the atmosphere for decades to come, worsening the climate crisis. He claims his terminal is designed to facilitate gas imports until green hydrogen becomes more widely available.
He argues there are over a thousand other industrialists like him who must stop peddling "poisonous energy" and "go green".
“But instead, what they've done is just amp up what they always have done. And that's oil and gas,” he said. “So you're getting this furious race to destroy the planet. The first one in before the planet dies is going to make the most money.”
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