The West

Browse gas hub fallout gets bitter
An artist's impression of a Floating LNG operation at James Price Point.

The fallout from Woodside abandoning the Kimberley LNG hub descended into bitter recriminations yesterday.

Aboriginal elders complained of betrayal, the State Government blamed unions and industry warned of higher domestic gas prices.

Jabirr Jabirr traditional owner Rita Augustine, who became the face of Aboriginal support for the $40 billion project, said she was "really hurt" by the gas giant's decision to walk away for commercial reasons.

"I also feel let down by some of my people here in Broome and the outsiders who came in to protest against us," the 78-year-old elder said of the fierce opposition to building the hub at nearby James Price Point.

The Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr people negotiated a 30-year $1.5 billion benefits package under the native title agreement that paved the way for the plant.

The State Government and Woodside are trying to determine how much is owed now the project is no longer proceeding.

Woodside's decision prompted a grave observation from Treasurer Troy Buswell that WA had either become, or was perceived to have become, a "high cost place to do business".

His claim that "exorbitant, ridiculous" pay claims by the Maritime Union of Australia added to the State's cost profile was angrily dismissed by the WA branch of the militant union.

Industry was last night grappling with the implications of the widely tipped shift by Woodside and its joint venture partners to offshore, floating LNG technology to extract the Browse gas.

Gas projects in WA must set aside 15 per cent of supplies for WA industry and consumers under the State's reservation policy, but only if the gas is processed onshore rather than in Commonwealth waters.

If Browse was processed onshore, the WA market would have been in line for the same amount reserved under the massive Gorgon project - more than two trillion cubic feet.

The DomGas alliance, which represents big gas users such as Alinta and Synergy, warned domestic prices would rise if the local market was unable to secure any Browse gas as expected under the State's energy blueprint.

"Any new source of additional gas in the system will have a downward influence on price and to the extent that that gas doesn't come in, it will make things more difficult," a spokesman said.

The Browse deposit is complicated - one-third is in State waters near an island, with the rest under Federal jurisdiction.

The spokesman said exploiting the WA share would still require a State Agreement between Colin Barnett's Government and Woodside and he urged the Premier to make local gas supplies a component of any deal.

"Also, we know the Federal Government don't like reservation policies but we've been putting it out to them that they need to be looking at something to ensure that Australia gets some benefit from that gas," he said.

The West Australian

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