Approval for Woodside Energy’s plans to undertake seismic blasting in a whale habitat offshore Western Australia was thrown out of the country’s Federal Court on Thursday, ending a legal battle between an indigenous woman and the gas major.
Raelene Cooper, a traditional custodian of the Murujuga land in Western Australia, initially filed a judicial review in August that argued the country’s regulatory body, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), had not properly consulted her when granting environmental approval for the seismic blasting, and therefore had acted in error.
Judge Craig Colvin, who presided over the case, ruled in her favour, stating that NOPSEMA did not have the authority to accept Woodside’s environmental assessment of the blasting, which was for its $12bn (A$18.56bn) Scarborough Gas Project, because the regulator had not consulted all parties involved.
Cooper said in an emailed press statement that she was elated, adding that this is more than a personal victory. “Woodside just came and told us what was happening. They never bothered to sit down and listen to Murujuga traditional custodians about the full impacts of their Burrup Hub operations on our culture and our sacred Songlines.”
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Concerns have been raised by Cooper and her community about the impact seismic blasting can have on whales that populate the region’s waters. In Mardudhunera culture, whales are said to carry ‘songlines’ – paths across the world that connect individuals with their ancestral lands.
“No one is more relevant to consult about the threat posed by Woodside’s Burrup Hub than Traditional Custodians of Murujuga with cultural, spiritual and family connections to our sacred ngurra [home],” Cooper’s statement read. “We know what it takes to protect our Country and keep it safe for all of us – plants, animals and humans. When you’re messing with mother Earth you’re talking about all humanity, our very existence.
“This is bigger than me, it’s about my people and our history. We’ve been forgotten and treated so badly. I want the old people to remember we are warriors. I’m a warrior and my family are warriors.”
Earlier this month, Cooper, aided by non-profit legal centre the Environmental Defenders Office, successfully filed an urgent injunction to temporarily halt Woodside’s plans to begin seismic blasting in the area until the validity of regulatory approval had been confirmed. On Thursday, approval was thrown out indefinitely.
Woodside did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but on its webpage on the Scarborough Gas Project, it states: “Woodside continues to work with Traditional Custodians to identify, manage and protect heritage in the area to support the development of a Cultural Heritage Management Plan. Following the discovery of Australia’s first subsea Indigenous artefacts in the waters off Murujuga in July 2020, Woodside has proactively sought to understand the potential heritage values of the submerged cultural landscape for the Scarborough pipeline.”