By B.Hannam

Woodside Energy’s authorisation for seismic blasting in its Scarborough Gas Project has been nullified by the Federal Court following a legal challenge from a Traditional Custodian, Raelene Cooper.

The company had been looking forward to beginning their underwater surveying for the $12 billion USD project – situated off WA’s Pilbara coast – earlier this month

As a proud Mardudhunera woman, Cooper contended that the offshore regulator NOPSEMA made a legal error in sanctioning the blasting and that Woodside had not fulfilled a stipulation mandating her proper consultation. The project is situated offshore of the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia, which has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage recognition due to its extensive collection of Aboriginal rock art.

Ms Cooper said: 

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.”

She continues;

“We can’t change what’s happened in the past, but we can change what’s going to come in the future and if we keep doing what we’re doing, there isn’t going to be a really great future.

We all have children, we all have grandchildren… we want a better world for them.”

Cooper’s concerns primarily revolved around the devastating effects of seismic activity on precious marine life, especially whales who use sonar navigation to communicate. Also the indigenous  Songlines that are embedded in the area. It is the responsibility of a Traditional Custodian to protect these Songlines for future generations.

In September, Judge Justice Colvin granted an interlocutory injunction, temporarily halting Woodside from conducting blasting. Whilst it’s not yet clear how impactful this set delay may be, it ensures the protection the other life on our planet is upheld consciously and thoroughly. 

Counting this decision as a huge win, Cooper, who was represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, returned to court for an expedited hearing on the case’s initial grounds, challenging NOPSEMA’s acceptance of Woodside’s plan and the adequacy of stakeholder consultation.

Raelene Cooper’s response to today’s outcome was a joyous one, she said: 

I’m so elated. I want my mob back home to be empowered by this day today. This is bigger than me it’s about my people and our history.”

Woodside’s Scarborough Gas Project is a part of the environmentally impactful Burrup Hub and is projected to release a substantial amount of carbon dioxide over its lifespan. The Burrup Hub also encompasses the development of gas fields, including the Pluto Project processing plant, in an area with a densely concentrated collection of Aboriginal rock art. Seismic testing, which Woodside had planned to conduct, has adverse repercussions on marine creatures, such as our beautiful whales. See here.  

This legal triumph underscores the significance of rigorous consultation before approving offshore developments and follows a precedent-setting case in which NOPSEMA approvals for gas company Santos were contested and overturned due to insufficient stakeholder consultation.




Bartholomew, V. (2023, September 28). Woodside’s seismic blasting approval thrown out after legal challenge by Traditional Custodian. Environmental Defenders Office. 
(Bartholomew, 2023)

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