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Woodside’s seismic blasting approval for Scarborough gas quashed

Woodside’s seismic blasting plan for its $16.5 billion Scarborough gas project off the West Australian coast has been halted indefinitely after the Federal Court found the regulator did not have the power to approve it.

Mardudhunera woman Raelene Cooper was visibly emotional as the decision was handed down by Federal Court justice Craig Colvin on Thursday morning, embracing supporters and her legal team.

Cooper addressing the media outside court after the injunction was issued.

Cooper addressing the media outside court after the injunction was issued.Credit: Jesinta Burton.

Colvin found the offshore regulator The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority did not have the statutory power to approve the oil and gas giant’s environmental plan for the blasting before it had consulted Cooper, and it should therefore be deemed invalid.

The decision will be set aside and the original October trial dates vacated, with Woodside to pay Cooper’s court costs.

It comes less than 48 hours after more than two dozen lawyers assembled before the judge as Cooper’s silk argued her case for a judicial review of the decision, insisting the regulator had erred in approving Woodside’s environmental plan because it had failed to consult her as a traditional owner.

Harris argued the testing, which involves compressed air guns releasing underwater sound waves and recording echoes off the geological formations below the seabed, would affect marine life and areas of cultural significance.

“We say the text is clear about the degree to which the regulator’s delegate must be satisfied that the criteria have been met,” she told the court on Tuesday.

“The regulations state that the environmental plan must describe the existing environment that may be affected by the activity, cultural, social and economic factors as well as the heritage aspects and sensitivities of that environment - that is simply not possible if the consultation hasn’t been completed.

“It’s really a very significant matter, your honour, it’s not just about a few regulations, a whole swathe of provisions would have to yield to align with the construction favoured by the respondents.”

If successful in contending that NOPSEMA did not have statutory power to green light the plan on the conditions it did, Harris argued the decision to approve blasting should be regarded as no decision at all.

But Woodside’s lawyer Brahma Dharmananda objected to the move and attacked the proponent’s power to demand such relief, while NOPSEMA’s lawyer Nicholas Wood defended the regulator’s decision to accept the plan.

Woodside had also warned that delays to the works would have serious financial ramifications because the oil and gas giant had already inked a deal with blasting contractor Shearwater.

Cooper had previously gained an injunction temporarily restraining the company from blasting after Woodside told her lawyers of its plans to begin the 40-day testing regime within 48 hours.

A Woodside spokesperson previously told this masthead the company had dedicated two years to consultation on the environment plan, and made a significant effort to ensure its approach met case law requirements.

The lawsuits follow a series of protests against Woodside and its plans to expand gas production on the Burrup Peninsula in WA’s north-west, where it operates two gas export plants, amid concerns about its environmental impact.

Woodside committed to the development of the offshore Scarborough gas field back in 2021, which will see the capacity of its Pluto export plant double.

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