James Price Point gas hub demise

The writing was on the wall as far back as September 2011, possibly earlier. Woodside's decision to almost abandon James Price Point in Western Australia as an on-shore gas processing facility was predicted by the "protectors" (aka "protestors") a year ago. That's how confident the "protectors" were that the development wouldn't proceed. It was too costly. And there was too much doubt. And too much heavy-handed politics from the WA Premier.

Have a read of this article in The West Australian, 21 September 2011.

But why did it proceed as far as it did, knowing of all the schisms that would be created?

A trip to Dampier Peninsula

It was May 2012 whilst travelling through WA that we (my wife and I) called into the protectors' camp on the Dampier Peninsula. We wanted to know their version of events and what they were trying to achieve. We also wanted to find out more about what was actually happening on the ground. Once we conveyed our bona fides, our meeting with the people there was very open and honest.

We were told that the protectors weren't against the extraction of gas but that they wanted to ensure that James Price Point should not be used for the massive industrialisation of the coastline that would result from on-shore gas processing. The risks to the environment and to Aboriginal cultural "songlines" were too great, we were advised. 

That's the version from one half of the Aboriginal communities that inhabit the region. The other is from those groups who want Aboriginal communities to share in the promise of $1.5b of 'compensation and development funding'. 

The gas hub proposal has split the Aboriginal communities. It caused battle lines to be drawn. Bringing in ridiculously paid security personnel (as Woodside did) to patrol the "work zone" where large land clearance activities were under way in 2012, did nothing to create better relations between all parties.

Anyway, the group we met said they were in favour of off-shore processing or conveying the gas to the processing facility at Burrup Peninsula. That seemed like a reasonable solution. 

If gas was to be extracted anyway - and let's face it, if it's there it will be extracted regardless of what we mere mortals think - then it should be conducted with the least environmental and cultural risks possible. Fair enough. 

The demise

Let's look at a few main points.


It became apparent that the WA Premier was insisting on the land-based option, so much so, that he was blind to what was to eventually unfold. Stubbornness and intractability are no emotions to have when such high emotion was already in play in nearby Broome and on the Dampier Peninsula. Common-sense, abandonment of ego, and the art of compromise are great skills to have.

4The decision by WA's Environment Protection Authority relating to the project was also in deep trouble, with accusations of conflicts of interest by EPA Board members, who have now been taken to Court by the Wilderness Society.

4   The intransigence of key players for the development would surely have been a factor in the project's demise, as much as the predicted cost blowout was. With the exit of some of the key individuals in the project, the story took on a different perspective.

4   With a change in the consortium participants last year, particularly the selling down of Woodside's stake, and the addition of Shell into the fray, would have changed the focus of this gigantic project. Independent investment returns analysis clearly showed that the land-based facility was the least profitable.

4   Environmental risks were never fully countenanced. No wonder there's been a change in direction. If projects of this magnitude are to ever go ahead, then every conceivable risk must be controlled absolutely. This wasn't the case for the Browse Basin/James Price Point project.

With the concurrence of governments and big business - which we have seen all across Australia where gas and coal are concerned - the lure of big money is a temptation unable to be resisted. For governments it's huge royalties or resources rent tax. An income stream for a long, long time.

Mammoth projects like Browse one almost inevitable … if everything stacks up.

The power of the common person when large-scale resources projects are proposed is so diminished to be almost invisible. Negated. 

Until, that is, environmental and human health risks rise to grab the headlines in media outlets. 

People power … this is what will not go away. Ever. Just like with CSG.

There's more that will be played out in the future on the Browse/James Price Point proposal. One of the options is for a smaller facility at James Price Point, but this is very unlikely. Why? Have a read here.

I've seen what a gas processing facility looks like; there's a huge development on the Burrup Peninsula near Dampier just south of Karratha.

Does it make sense to construct another one at James Price Point? I can't see any justification for it.

Nor can Australian Conservation Foundation. Read more here. And also here, for a comprehensive investment assessment.

And finally, what now happens to the large area of land that has been cleared at James Price Point? The penetrations of investigatory rigs into Ningaloo Reef? The dis-affected Aboriginal groups pinning their hopes and future on James Price Point? The promise of multi-millions for Aboriginal advancement?

Who is going to fix up those problems?

The final word goes to The Stringer in this article. Read the bottom of the article first. 

A problem of the WA Premier's making? 

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