Conservation groups say the Western Australian Government’s approval of Woodside's contentious Browse gas project is a step towards "environmental disaster" and have urged the Commonwealth to reject the proposal.
State environment minister Bill Marmion on Monday approved the $30 billion project planned for James Price Point north of Broome.
All that is needed now is the green light from Mr Marmion's Federal counterpart Tony Burke and a decision by the Woodside-led joint venture to proceed.
Those opposed to the location, including the Australian Greens, have called repeatedly for Browse Basin gas to be piped south to Woodside's existing North West Shelf facilities in the Pilbara region.
Others, including JP Morgan analysts, favour a floating liquefaction vessel, as Royal Dutch Shell plans for its Ichthys LNG project in the state's far north, but WA Premier Colin Barnett says that model would not provide enough local jobs.
Environs Kimberley pointed to a 5 November JP Morgan research note that said a floating project could be competitive because it allowed the proponents to "offshore costs in the escalating Australian capex environment".
If the economics of the James Price Point scenario did not stack up for the joint venture partners, which include heavyweights such as BHP Billiton and BP, the state government may have to accept the floating or North West Shelf alternatives, JP Morgan said.
Environs Kimberley director Martin Pritchard said the WA government had fixed its sights on James Price Point "based on politics rather than on science".
"And they have failed to properly consider social and economic impacts on Broome and the Kimberley," Mr Pritchard said.
"This proposal would be the biggest environmental disaster the Kimberley has ever seen."
The Wilderness Society labeled the state's environmental assessment process "a sham", pointing to the fact an Environmental Protection Authority report advising Mr Marmion to back the project was left to just one man, chairman Paul Vogel, after his four fellow board members abstained due to conflicts of interest.
Mr Marmion's approval was subject to strict conditions relating to the protection of whales, dolphins, dugongs, turtles and sawfish, dinosaur tracks, the involvement of traditional owners and native title claimants, and measures to address the risk of pollution from oil spills and air emissions.
Also, Pew Environment Group said the Kimberley faced increased environmental threats from mining, including copper exploration at Horizontal Falls and a proposal for a new coal mine in the Fitzroy River Valley.
Mr Marmion has admitted he can't think of a project, other than Woodside's Browse gas hub, that involved the federal and state governments hand picking the site.
Asked during a press conference if he could think of any other project approval process that began with the federal and state governments picking a site - as was the case with Browse in 2009 - Mr Marmion indicated there were no other examples.
"I'm trying to think of one," he said.
Mr Marmion did not directly respond when asked if his hands were tied before he even began assessing the project, instead saying that government involvement in the site selection process was aimed at preventing ad hoc development along the Kimberley coast and creating a hub that could process gas from multiple projects.
"It's showing that the State Government – not me – but the minister involved (State Development Minister and Premier Colin Barnett) is wanting to create an environment for development to occur and it also does create an environment where you don't get individual LNG producers wanting to set up all along the coast," Mr Marmion said.
"I wasn't involved in the site selection but personally, knowing the area, they've probably picked a good spot."
Mr Marmion declined to comment on alternative scenarios, saying that was not his remit as environment minister.
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