In 2013, EDO and legal firm Slater & Gordon won a major case in the Supreme Court of Western Australia to protect James Price Point, near Broome on the Kimberley coast. They represented The Wilderness Society of WA (Inc) and Mr Richard Hunter, a Goolaraboolooo man and traditional owner.
The court case challenged the approval by the W.A. State Government of the Browse Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Precinct Proposal at James Price Point by joint-venture partners Woodside Petroleum, Shell, BP, Mitsubishi/Mitsui and PetroChina.
The challenge was prompted by the threat posed by petroleum development to the environmental values of James Price Point, which is a calving ground for the world’s largest population of humpback whales; home to newly discovered Spinner Dolphins, endangered Hawksbill turtles and dugongs; and has a remarkable track of fossilised dinosaur footprints preserved in rock. The environmental values of the location were not at issue in the legal challenge itself.
Under WA’s system of strategic environmental assessment, a ‘strategic proposal’ (a proposal to set aside particular land for future developments of a specific kind) can be assessed by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and approved by agreement between State Ministers. A subsequent proposal to actually develop the land can then be greenlighted by the EPA without further assessment if it falls within the scope of the approved strategic proposal and is therefore considered a ‘derived proposal’.
In August 2013, Supreme Court Chief Justice Martin ruled that all three key steps in the environmental assessment and approval of the Browse LNG proposal – the EPA’s assessment of the strategic proposal; the Ministers’ approval of it; and the EPA’s approval of the ‘derived proposal’ put forward by Woodside Petroleum – were unlawful and therefore invalid.
The approvals were found to be unlawful because the original EPA assessment of the strategic proposal was undertaken with the participation of several people with conflicts of interest. An effort by the EPA to get around this issue – by delegating the finalisation of the assessment to another individual – was ruled to be ineffective. Because the EPA’s assessment of the strategic proposal was unlawful, the two subsequent approvals that depended on that assessment were also found to be invalid.
Prior to the Court’s decision, in April 2013, Woodside Petroleum had announced that it would not proceed with plans to establish an LNG processing hub at James Price Point. However the W.A. government continued with its compulsory acquisition processes to purchase 3,414 hectares, and a new assessment was undertaken of the strategic proposal by a delegated panel of three people without disqualifying conflicts of interest.
Future development of an LNG project at the site would require a new Ministerial approval of the strategic proposal, and a new proponent to put forward a proposal to develop the project. As Woodside Petroleum is now actively pursuing other means of developing the Browse gas field, the likelihood of a future revival of the project is remote (but not impossible).
EDO Western Australia was the legal entity acting in this case. EDO Western Australia agreed to merge with EDO Ltd in 2019.