A Western Australian Traditional Custodian has been granted an urgent injunction to prevent Woodside Energy conducting seismic blasting.
Mardudhunera woman Raelene Cooper filed the application last Thursday (7th September) after Woodside warned it was ready to commence blasting, despite an unresolved legal challenge to the validity of its approval. Woodside subsequently agreed not to blast until the injunction application was heard today by the Federal Court.
Today, Justice Colvin decided that the injunction should be granted in part due to the reasonable prospect that the first ground of Ms Cooper’s substantive legal challenge to NOPSEMA approval of the seismic blasting will be successful. His honour brought the hearing for that matter, and a separate question of Ms Cooper’s standing as to her second ground, forward until later this month.
The injunction prevents Woodside conducting seismic testing for the Scarborough Gas Project until 5pm on the 28th of September. A decision about costs of the injunction application was reserved.
Represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, Ms Cooper filed an application for judicial review in August on two grounds, the first arguing the offshore regulator NOPSEMA made a legal error in approving the blasting and the second that Woodside had not met a condition of the approval that she be properly consulted.
Ms Cooper is deeply concerned about the seismic activity’s impact on her Songlines and the species connected to them, including whales and turtles, which are of high cultural importance.
Following today’s decision, Raelene Cooper said:
“I’m elated and very grateful and appreciative of the court with its decision today and my team and their brilliant minds and heart effort from the beginning.
“I’m looking forward to an opportunity to be heard.
“Woodside have not conducted proper consultation with traditional custodians about the impacts of their seismic blasting on our culture.
“The risks and the impacts of Woodside’s seismic blasting and the consequences of these actions will be life threatening for many species of water life, especially the whales. These majestic and graceful marine mammals carry our songlines from one part of Country to another, they are documented on our munda (rocks), and they are our dreaming stories that I hold.
“Our planet and our world is being attacked; we humans are being attacked; my ancient culture is being attacked; and I and those who carry and hold songlines are being attacked. If we don’t act, then we too face the same fate as those majestic animals who recently beached themselves in Albany to get out of the water.”
EDO Special Counsel Clare Lakewood said:
“We’re very relieved that our client will now be able to present her case to the Federal Court without the threat of this seismic blasting commencing in the meantime.
“Our client did not take this action lightly. However, the threat to songlines and culturally important animals was such that she felt compelled to ask the court for an urgent injunction.
“We look forward to returning to court in a few weeks to present our case as to why the the approval NOPSEMA gave to Woodside was not legally valid.”
Woodside wants to conduct seismic blasting for its Scarborough Gas Project – a for-export LNG proposal off Murujuga/the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia, which will result in the release of an estimated 878.02 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.
On 17 August Mardudhunera woman Raelene Cooper filed for judicial review, asking the Federal Court to find that approval for Woodside Energy to carry out seismic blasting for the project was unlawful.
Despite finding that Woodside’s consultation with First Nations stakeholders, required by law, had been inadequate, NOPSEMA gave approval for the seismic blasting on July 31. Conditions were attached to the approval that further consultation needed to be carried out before commencement of the blasting.
Ms Cooper argues that NOPSEMA cannot grant the approval until she has been properly consulted; and alternatively, that Woodside cannot begin seismic testing until Woodside has consulted with her, as required under the conditions of Woodside’s approval from NOPSEMA.
Seismic testing involves blasting compressed air from a specially adapted ship. The noise from the blasts causes sound waves to bounce off the seabed back to sensors carried by the ship. It’s done to map fossil fuel reserves as a precursor to drilling.
The impact of seismic blasting on marine animals such as whales can include damage to the sensors that they use to hear, ability to communicate through their electro-frequencies, stress, displacement from habitat, physical injuries and death.
In 2022, EDO client Dennis Tipakalippa successfully challenged approvals granted by NOPSEMA to gas company Santos for drilling its Barossa Gas Project, north of the Tiwi Islands. During the hearing Mr Tipakalippa and other Tiwi Traditional Owners demonstrated their deep cultural connection to the Sea Country, including through On-Country evidence.
The court agreed with Mr Tipakalippa and the Munupi clan that they had not been properly consulted on the project as stakeholders, as required by law, and overturned the approval. The decision was upheld on appeal by the Full bench of the Federal Court in November.