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Woodside's Burrup gas hub threatens ancient aboriginal sacred art, Western Australia


Description:

In 1965, the first western settlement of Dampier was established in Murujuga, land stewarded by the Ngarluma aboriginal people after the Yaburara traditional owners were wiped out by the western colonisers [1], to serve as a port to export iron ore from mines in the Pilbara region. In 1984, the first production well at what is now known as Burrup Hub was opened as part of the North West Shelf gas project. In 1989, the first LNG cargo was sent from the Karratha LNG terminal, the second largest LNG export terminal in the world [2]. In 2005, further expansion projects started with the development of more offshore gas fields and the construction of Pluto LNG, a second liquefaction plant [3]. Now, the corporate conglomerate led by Woodside wants to ramp up gas extraction with the Scarborough and the Browse basin offshore gas projects, and potentially opening opportunities for an onshore fracking boom in Western Australia [4]. But aboriginal people and climate campaigners are defiantly resisting the projects.

Murujuga, also known as Burrup peninsula, is the site of a vast collection of over 1 million petroglyphs, or rock paintings, dating from 50,000 years ago to the mid 19th century.

These rock paintings are sacred for the aboriginal population and they constitute the recorded memory of their ancestors [5]. There is an ongoing application process for Murujuga to be protected as a UNESCO World Heritge site [1]. A recent scientific report confirmed the original alarm of aboriginal peoples over the erosion of the rock art due to the industrial activities of the Burrup Hub [6]. Historically, the development of the infrastucture for what is now the Burrup Hub has destroyed, displaced and disturbed petroglyphs, including up to 5,000 pieces of rock art  destroyed to make way for the Karratha Gas Plant in the 1980s. Possibly up to 15,000 petroglyphs could have been destroyed by the construction of the iron ore stockpiling and export facilities in the 1960s , before the petroglyphs were recorded or protected [7].

In the words of Raelene Cooper, a Mardudhunera woman and former board member of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation: “Industry has removed and destroyed our rock art in another form of cultural genocide. This has caused loss of our traditional livelihoods, traditional Indigenous knowledge and our spiritual relationship with the land. There has been displacement and  ecological degradation. The ngurra, our land, is our temple and our parliament. The rock art archives our lore. It is written not on a tablet of stone but carved into the ngurra, which holds our Dreaming stories and Songlines.” [8].

Woodside is playing a game of divide and rule over the local aboriginal community. Based on its collaboration with the Mujuruga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC), the organisation managing the Native Title in representation of 5 aboriginal groups, it says that industrial development and traditional heritage can co-exist. But the current CEO of the  Mujuruga Aboriginal Corporation worked for Woodside since 2013 [8]. This has brought the MAC to support further developments of the Barrup Hub [9] while other aboriginal groups such as Save Our Songlines are standing their ground and fighting for the cancelation of new industrial projects in Mujuruga and the recognition of their ancestors' heritage [10].

Despite public authorities claiming that "little was known about the heritage values" of Mujuruga at the time of industrialisation. It is obvious the site has always had great importance for aboriginal peoples, and Mujuruga was already identified as "a major archaeological resource with high scientific value" in a 1980 report, years before the construction of the Karratha Gas Plant [7]. One can't help but ask whether the industrial gas development was intentionally placed in Murujuga out of all possible locations to deliberately destroy the local aboriginal people cultural memory and sacred link with their ancestors. The case is reminiscent of the 2020 Rio Tinto's blow up of Juukan Gorge, a site with 46,000 years of continous human occupation, just 225km away. "It's almost a case of Juukan Gorge in slow motion" [11].

Climate and conservation organisations accuse Woodside and its corporate partners of lying about the climate impact of the project. They indeed warn that the Burrup Hub will have combined emissions of more than 6 GtCO2 over its lifetime, or the equivalent to the emissions of 35 of the largest, dirtiest coal-fired power stations every year [4]. To put this enormous quantity into perspective, as of 2020 only 500 GtCO2 can be emited to stand a 50% chance to remain below 1.5ºC of warming in 2100, what we know as carbon budget [12].

Two legal challenges have been put forward by conservation organisations seeking to stop the expansion project on its tracks. In 2020, the Conservation Council of Western Australia brought the chairman of the Western Australia (WA) Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to the WA supreme court to reverse environmental approvals by the agency [13]. In 2022, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) filled a case against claiming that emissions from the Scarborough project will significantly contribute to CO2 emissions leading to irreversible damage to the Great Barrier Reef and so the project needed to be approved by the Federal Environment Minister under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act instead of requiring only approval by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema). ACF chief executive, Kelly O’Shanassy warned “Scarborough’s gas is a climate bomb about to be detonated” [14].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Woodside's Burrup gas hub threatens ancient aboriginal sacred art, Western Australia
Country:Australia
State or province:Pilbara, Western Australia
Location of conflict:Murujuga
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Ports and airport projects
Oil and gas refining
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Natural Gas
Iron ore
Ammonium Nitrate
Fertilisers

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Burrup Hub includes several projects:

Scarborough gas project

It is an offshore gas field and contains 11.1 Tcf of gas. It will be exploited through a semi-submersible floating production unit with eight associated wells. It is located 375 km west of the Burrup Peninsula and will be connected to the Pluto LNG terminal by a 430 km pipepline. It will provide up to 8 Mtpa LNG through the Pluto LNG terminal [15].

$16,000,000,000 investment

Pluto LNG

It currently has one liquefaction train with 4.9 Mtpa LNG capacity and processes gas from the Pluto and Xena fields. Korean and Japanese are leading markets for the LNG. A second liquefaction train with 5 Mtpa LNG capacity is being proposed under the Scarborough gas project. Recently an interconnector between Pluto and Karratha Gas Plant has been built to optimise production accross both facilities [3].

North West Shelf Project

At 16.9 Mtpa capacity Karratha Gas liquefaction Plant is the second largest LNG export terminal in the world. It has been in operation for 37 years. It has 5 LNG liquefaction trains and 3 LPG fractionation units. The gas is sourced from the North Rankin, Goodwyn and Angel gas fields 135 km north-west of Karratha with three offshore platforms [16].

$25,000,000,000 investment since 1980s

Yara Pilbara Nitrates and Fertiliser Plants

Both use fossil gas as input to produce ammonium nitrate to be used as explosive for the mining industry in Western Australia and fertilisers for agriculture. The fertilisers plant is one of the biggest in the world with an annual output of 850,000 tonnes exported through the Dampier port. The fertilisers are mainly for the Korean, Indonesian and other SE Asian markets [17].

$480,000,000 investment

Perdaman's Urea Plant (proposed)

It has a proposed annual capacity to produce 2 Mtpa of urea from fossil gas. It has received the Ministerial approval in January 2022 [18].

$4,500,000,000 investment

Project area:1,600
Level of Investment for the conflictive project46,000,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1,341 Dampier population
Start of the conflict:01/01/1984
Company names or state enterprises:Mitsubishi Corporation from Japan - It owns an 8.3% stake through its joint venture subsidiary Japan Australia LNG (MIMI) Pty. Ltd. with Mitsui
Mitsui & Co., Ltd from Japan - It owns an 8.3% stake through its joint venture subsidiary Japan Australia LNG (MIMI) Pty. Ltd. with Mitsubishi
Kansai Electric Power Co (KEPCO) from Japan - It owns a 5% stake in the Pluto LNG terminal and has long-term sales agreements
Tokyo Gas from Japan - It owns a 5% stake in the Pluto LNG terminal and has long-term sales agreements
Woodside Energy from Australia - Operates and owns a 33% stake in the Karratha Gas Plant LNG terminal and operates and owns a 90% stake of the Pluto LNG terminal.
British Petroleum (BP) from United Kingdom - Owns a 16.6% stake in the Karratha Gas Plant LNG terminal through its subsidiary BP Developments Australia Pty Ltd.
Chevron Polska Energy Resources Sp. z o.o. from United States of America - Owns a 16.6% stake in the Karratha Gas Plant LNG terminal through its subsidiary Chevron Australia Pty Ltd.
Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) from Netherlands - Owns a 16.6% stake in the Karratha Gas Plant LNG terminal through its subsidiary Shell Australia Pty Ltd.
Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) from United States of America - Owns a 49% stake in Pluto LNG train 2
Orica Australia (Orica) from Australia - Owns a 50% stake in the Yara Pilbara Ammonium Nitrate plant
Yara from Norway - It is the owner of the Yara Pilbara Fertiliser Plant and holds a 50% stake in the Yara Pilbara Ammonium Nitrate plant
Perdaman Industries (Chemicals & Fertilisers) from Australia - It is proposing the new urea plant
Rio Tinto (Rio Tinto ) from United Kingdom - Through its subsidiary Pilbara Iron, it owns and operates the iron ore export facilities in East Intercourse Island
Relevant government actors:- Western Australia (WA) Environmental Protection Authority (EPA)
- Federal Environment Minister
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- Save our Songlines
https://www.saveoursonglines.org/
- Say No to Scarborough Gas
https://saynotoscarborough.com.au
- Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA)
https://www.ccwa.org.au
- Australian Conservation Foundation
https://www.acf.org.au/
- Clean State
https://www.cleanstate.org.au/
- Extinction Rebelion Western Australia
https://xrwa.earth
- Australian Workers’ Union
https://www.awu.net.au
- Maritime Union of Australia
https://www.mua.org.au
- Greenpeace
https://www.greenpeace.org
- Friends of Australian Rock Art (FARA)
https://www.fara.com.au/

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Boycotts of companies-products

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Oil spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsRespiratory and circulatory diseases linked to air pollution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession

Outcome

Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Project temporarily suspended
Proposal and development of alternatives:There are proposals to pursue an economic model based on respectful tourism of the rock art in Murujuga, which could be strengthened if UNESCO World Heritage status is finally given to the site.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project started operating more than 37 years ago with the North West Shelf operations. It continues nowadays with several projects to expand operations offshore to Scarborough and Browse basin fields, and onshore opening oportunities for development of a fracking industry in Western Australia. Aboriginal organisations still have to mobilise to save the remaining rock art and heritage in Murujuga threatened by the expansion projects and associated chemical industries.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[6] Smith, B. W., Black, J. L., Hoerle, S., Ferland, M. A., Diffey, S. M., Neumann, J. T., & Geisler, T. (2022). The impact of industrial pollution on the rock art of Murujuga, Western Australia. Rock Art Research: The Journal of the Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA), 39(1), 3-14.
https://search.informit.org/doi/abs/10.3316/informit.393299089754403

[1] de Jong, E. and Morton, A. 11/05/2022. ‘Our ancestors are in the rocks’: Australian gas project threatens ancient carvings – and emissions blowout. The Guardian.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/11/australia-gas-project-petroglyphs-woodside-climate-culture-carbon-bomb

[2] North West Shelf Gas project website. About. Visited on 22/07/2022.
http://www.nwsg.com.au/about/

[3] Woodside webpage. Pluto LNG. Visited on 22/07/2022.
https://www.woodside.com/what-we-do/operations/pluto-lng

[4] Clean State and Conservation Council of Western Australia. Burrup Hub: Australia’s most

polluting fossil fuel project.
https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ccwa/pages/13865/attachments/original/1632735886/CCWA_Clean-State_Burrup-Hub_Report_WEB-READER.pdf

[5] Wahlquist, C. 27/08/2018. ‘The rocks remember’: the fight to protect Burrup peninsula's rock art. In The Guardian.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/27/the-rocks-remember-the-fight-to-protect-burrup-peninsulas-rock-art

[7] Report chapter on Karratha local government website. Preservation and management of rock art.
https://karratha.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/uploads/yab-trail-foldout.pdf

[8] Kurmelovs, R. 06/07/2022. ‘Cultural genocide’: Australian state putting industry before heritage, Indigenous women tell UN. In The Guardian.
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/jul/06/cultural-genocide-australian-state-putting-industry-before-heritage-indigenous-women-tell-un

[9] Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation website. 26/11/2021. Facts about MAC and the Scarborough project (including Pluto Train 1 & 2).
https://www.murujuga.org.au/facts-about-mac-and-the-scarborough-project/

[10] Save Our Songlines website. Visited on 22/07/2022
https://www.saveoursonglines.org/

[11] Liveris, J. 29/10/2021. Fears pollution will destroy world's biggest collection of rock art 'within 100 years'. In Australia Broadcasting Corporation.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-29/fears-murujuga-pilbara-rock-art-at-risk-from-industry-pollution/100572050

[12] IPCC. 2022. Assessment Report 6, Working Group III, Summary for Policymakers.
https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGIII_SPM.pdf

[13] Readfearn, G. 21/12/2020. WA court challenge launched against huge Burrup Hub gas project. In The Guardian.
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/dec/21/wa-court-challenge-launched-against-huge-burrup-hub-gas-project

[14] Morton, A. 22/06/2022. Conservationists in court bid to halt $16bn Scarborough gas project citing damage to barrier reef. In The Guardian.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/22/conservationists-in-court-bid-to-halt-16bn-scarborough-gas-project-citing-damage-to-barrier-reef

[15] Woodside webpage. Scarborough and Pluto Train 2. Visited on 22/07/2022.
https://www.woodside.com/what-we-do/growth-projects/scarborough

[16] Woodside webpage. North West Shelf. Visited on 22/07/2022
https://www.woodside.com/what-we-do/operations/north-west-shelf

[17] Yara Pilbara website. About Yara Pilbara. Visited on 22/07/2022
https://www.yara.com.au/about-yara/about-yara-australia/pilbara/

[18] Environmental Protection Authority, Western Australia website. 24/01/2022. Perdaman Urea Project.
https://www.epa.wa.gov.au/proposals/perdaman-urea-project

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Powerful video on the importance of Songlines for the local aboriginal culture from Save Our Songlines
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_kyGFDuDok

Save the Burrup - Save our Songlines

@SaveOurSonglines · Causa
https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurSonglines/

Other comments:"Indigenous women travel to UN to warn of 'cultural genocide' in Australia" . Yahoo News AU. MICHAEL DAHLSTROM
6 July 2022 (19).

Meta information

Contributor:EJAtlas team (M.L.)
Last update03/08/2022
Conflict ID:6078

Images

 

40,000 year-old aboriginal art endangered by the project

Source: Say No to Scarborough Gas website. https://saynotoscarborough.com.au/what-is-scarborough/

Murujuga characteristic rock formations with gas plant in the background

Source: https://www.saveoursonglines.org/rock-art-threats

Save Our Songlines march resisting the development of an urea plant on 19/06/2022

Credit: AAP/Save Our Songlines Source: https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/2022/07/19/traditional-owners-ministers-wa-urea-plant/

Satellite image of Murujuga with industrial sites and petroglyph are indicated

Credit: Brisbane Times. Source: https://www.fara.com.au/brisbane-times-australias-significant-site-off-unesco-world-heritage-list/

Burrup Hub schematic representation and companies involved

Source: https://www.ccwa.org.au/burrup-hub