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 , 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 . In 2005, further expansion projects started with the development of more offshore gas fields and the construction of Pluto LNG, a second liquefaction plant . 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 . 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 . There is an ongoing application process for Murujuga to be protected as a UNESCO World Heritge site . 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 . 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 .
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.” .
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 . This has brought the MAC to support further developments of the Barrup Hub  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 .
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 . 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" .
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 . 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 .
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 . 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” .