The proposed Browse LNG Precinct at James Price Point has been granted environmental approval from the State Government, weeks after appeals committee recommended it be given the green light.
WA Environment Minister Bill Marmion said he was satisfied the strictest environmental approvals process had been followed and all possible issues had been addressed.
Mr Marmion said the decision followed three weeks of consultation with the ministers for Mines and Petroleum, Indigenous Affairs, Lands and Transport.
“In reaching this agreement, I also took into account comments made by the ministers for Planning and State Development; and agencies, including the departments of Environment and Conservation, and Water; and the Shire of Broome,” he said.
He said the strengthened conditions would improve knowledge and strengthen the protection of whales, dolphins, dugongs, turtles and sawfish, including from the impacts of noise and pile driving; reduce impacts on the monsoon vine thickets; enhance protection of dinosaur tracks; better address the risk of pollution from oil spills and air emissions and invasive marine species.
“I have also strengthened conditions for the involvement of traditional owners and native title claimants, and the requirements for stakeholder and community consultation in the development of a range of environmental management plans,” he said.
Earlier this year, the State Government’s approvals process drew controversy after it emerged that three out of five members of the Environmental Protection Authority’s board had to excuse themselves from voting on the project because of conflicts of interest.
A fourth member, Elizabeth Carr had been excluded from voting earlier in the process. Controversy also arose about the fate of dinosaur footprints which run up the Dampier Peninsula, with Mr Marmion recently admitting those in the path of the development would have to be destroyed.
On July 16, the remaining EPA board member, chairman Dr Paul Vogel, recommended that the $40 billion Browse LNG project be allowed to proceed with 29 strict conditions attached.
Mr Marmion then appointed a committee of one, Dr Roy Green of the Office of the Appeals Convenor, to plough through a record 244 appeals against the approval granted by Mr Vogel.
Mr Marmion said the appeals process had resulted in a comprehensive review of the EPA’s report. He said the final conditions had been strengthened so the environment would be properly protected if the precinct was developed.
A Woodside spokesman said the company welcomed the Ministerial approval, describing it as a “significant step forward” for the development.
“We are confident that the social and environmental impacts arising from the Browse LNG Development can be minimised and managed effectively,” he said.
“We believe that the range of management plans and strategies outlined in the strategic assessment report and reflected in the Minister’s environmental conditions will ensure that the development can co-exist with the environmental, cultural and heritage values of the West Kimberley.”
But Martin Pritchard, of Environs Kimberley, described the proposed project as the “biggest environmental disaster the Kimberley has ever seen”.
He said a 50sq km marine deadzone surrounding the port was in the middlee of Humpback whale calving grounds, dolphin habitat and seagrass beds essential for endangered turtles and other marine life like dugong and fish.
“Unfortunately, no amount of conditions can stop the devastation of 34 million tonnes of dredging and the blasting, equivalent to filling the Subiaco oval to the top of the goalposts 84 times, in a pristine marine environment,” he said.
“The WA Government has made a decision based on politics rather than on science and they failed to make any attempt to consider social and economic impacts on Broome and the Kimberley.”
The final decision on the project now rests with Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke. Greens MLC Robin Chapple vowed to take his opposition to the project to the Federal government, saying it was “flawed from the outset.”
“Minister Marmion’s so-called ‘strengthened conditions’ is little more than tinkering at the edges of a massive industrial development that will prove to be disastrous for the ecology, Aboriginal heritage and paleontological values of the area,” he said.
“No matter how the Minister dresses this up, the project will cut across the song line known as the Lurujarri Trail that has been celebrated for thousands of years and which is central to the wellbeing of the Goolarabooloo people.
“We must now turn to the Federal Minister for the Environment to halt this foolishness.”