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Woodside to halt undersea testing for legal challenge

Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS

Woodside Energy will have to suspend undersea survey work off the West Australian coast while a challenge over its legality is under way.

The Federal Court on Thursday granted Mardudhunera woman Raelene Cooper an interlocutory injunction, ordering the oil and gas producer not to carry out seismic testing for its $16.5 billion Scarborough gas project.

Justice Craig Colvin also brought the judicial review concerning Woodside's environmental plan, which was scheduled for late October, forward by a month.

He said that based on the information to hand, Ms Cooper has a reasonable prospect of winning the trial and that Woodside would be acting unlawfully if it undertook the survey work.

Ms Cooper filed a legal challenge in August citing issues with the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority's approval process, saying she had not been properly consulted as required.

Justice Colvin said it appeared the regulator initially found that Woodside had not adequately consulted Ms Cooper and others but accepted the environmental plan on condition more talks would take place.

Woodside reported the additional work was done and the regulator carried out a "desktop inspection" to ensure it had complied.

"The fact that it concluded there had not been adequate consultation with Ms Cooper and others at the time that it decided to accept the plan is a very significant matter," he said.

Ms Cooper is deeply concerned about the seismic survey's potential impact on songlines and the culturally significant animals connected to them.

Her lawyer Laura Hilly said that as an elder and traditional owner Ms Cooper has obligations to the songlines, her culture and her community.

"She's concerned that serious harm, including the disruption to culturally significant songlines, which she holds will, in turn, have spiritual health and well-being impacts upon Ms Cooper, her family and those who are intimately connected to it," she said.

"And wants to communicate those concerns to Woodside in the consultation process."

Woodside lawyer Steven Penglis said delaying the work would have a significant financial impact and the company had given Ms Cooper ample opportunity to consult with it and continued to do so.

He said the environmental plan was a "living" document and NOPSEMA as the regulator had imposed conditions during the approval process that could be further amended.

Outside court Ms Cooper said she was elated by the decision and looking forward to an opportunity to share her knowledge with Woodside.

"My ancient culture is being attacked," she said.

"Woodside has not conducted proper consultation with traditional custodians about the impacts of their seismic blasting on our culture."

The massive Scarborough field is located in the Carnarvon Basin, about 375km off WA's northwest coast.

The gas project will be connected to new offshore facilities by a 430km pipeline to the onshore Pluto liquid natural gas facility, near Karratha.

The development phase will include the installation of a floating production unit with eight wells drilled initially and 13 wells drilled across the life of the gas field.

Woodside expects to process about five to eight million tonnes of gas per year, which Ms Cooper's lawyers from the Environmental Defenders Office previously said would result in the release of an estimated 878 million tonnes of carbon dioxide across the project's lifetime.

Seismic surveying is a geophysical technique that uses vibrations or seismic waves to investigate rocks up to 60km below the earth's surface.

The judicial review is likely to be scheduled for September 26, with the injunction in place until 5pm on September 28.

In a statement on Thursday, Woodside noted the interlocutory injunction and welcomed the Federal Court's proposal to hold a further hearing regarding Ms Cooper's challenge.

"Woodside's seismic activity will be on hold until after this further hearing," the statement said.

"We have consulted extensively on our environment plans, dedicating time and effort so our approach to environmental management and EP consultation meets our current understanding of regulatory requirements and standards."