• Protestors have blockaded the road following the approval of Woodside's Scarborough gas project. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Traditional Owners say they're concerned for their Country and Songlines following the approval of a massive gas project in the Pilbara.
Keira Jenkins, Karen Michelmore

24 Nov 2021 - 6:33 PM  UPDATED 24 Nov 2021 - 6:33 PM

Traditional Owners have raised the alarm following the approval of a massive gas project in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

On Monday, Woodside Energy announced its $16 billion Scarborough gas project had been given the green light.

The development is Australia's largest new gas project in a decade.

But Traditional Owners said they fear the potential impact of the project on the highly significant collection of ancient Aboriginal rock engravings in nearby Murujuga National Park.

The gallery, containing more than a million petroglyphs, some more than 45,000 years old, is currently being considered for admission to the World Heritage List.

Kuruma Marthudunera and Ngarluma Yindjibarndi woman Josie Alec told NITV News she’s concerned the project will damage the environment and impact her people’s Songlines.

“We’re very spiritually connected to the Country and connected to the Songlines that run through the Country,” she said.

“What really concerns me is the dredging of the ocean. Hundreds of kilometres of pipelines, not only one, but two, going from Karratha to north of Broome.

“If these areas are not protected, the energy of the Country dies.

“If the energy of the Country dies, we die. It’s as simple as that.”

These concerns come amid reports that the gas giant is negotiating with Traditional Owners through the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) for a stake in the $16.5 billion project.

A spokesperson for Woodside said their CEO Meg O'Neil had been asked by Reuters whether Woodside was in talks to offer a stake in Scarborough to the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation.

"She declined to discuss any specific conversations Woodside was having with any Traditional Owner groups," the spokesperson said.

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Ms O'Neill told Reuters “we do have very strong relationships with MAC, with the Ngarluma Aboriginal Corporation, as well as with NYFL [Ngarluma Yindjibarndi Foundation Limited] who’s been our partner in the North West Shelf” and that Woodside have “very strong engagements with all three of those groups".

In a statement the chairperson of MAC, Vincent Adams, told NITV News it is "continuing to conduct extensive and ongoing investigations into the potential effects of the Scarborough development on Murujuga".

"MAC wants to ensure absolute due diligence is complete before any major decisions are made regarding any project on country," the statement said.

"It is our foremost duty and responsibility to protect and preserve our heritage, culture and land and provide a sustainable future for our members.

"We will continue to work closely with experts, industry and government to very carefully manage and future development on Murujuga."

'Bigger than Adani'

Two protestors have cemented themselves inside a white caravan and one is locked underneath a vehicle, cutting off access to major industrial plants on the Pilbara's Burrup Peninsula, in protest over the development.

The car and caravan have blocked Burrup Road, the only road into the Burrup industrial area, containing the Karratha Gas Plant, the Pluto LNG plant, Yara Fertilisers and the Port of Dampier.

Police were removing the protestors this afternoon, WA time, more than eight hours after the blockade began.

One of the protestors, Petrina, said she had cemented herself to a barrel to "stand with Traditional Custodians and shut down Scarborough Gas".

"It is bigger than Adani and it’s the most polluting fossil fuel project in Australia," she said in a statement distributed by the Scarborough Gas Action Alliance.

The protest had caused a traffic jam, with workers on their way to and from the industrial hub halted.

A spokesperson for Woodside said the protestors' actions "compromise the safety of people who are completing shifts at Woodside and other facilities on the Burrup Peninsula".

"Woodside respects people’s rights to protest peacefully and lawfully but actions such as these that endanger the safety of others go beyond those rights," the spokesperson said in a statement.

"Our teams are currently maintaining safe operations at our facilities while access to and from our sites, and others, is rectified."

'Plan for renewable energy'

Ms Alec said support from the protestors is a “blessing” for Traditional Owners.

Ultimately she said she wants to protect Country, and for Traditional Owners to have all the information they need to make decisions about what happens on their ancestral lands.

“We just want to remove the gag clauses on the Traditional Owners,” she said.

“Another thing we were looking at is actually to get MAC independent funding, provided that’s away from Woodside, because at the moment Woodside funds MAC.

“And we want to just put an immediate pause on the Scarborough project until the Traditional Owners can be properly consulted and can make the informed decisions they need to make.”

Woodside have denied the use of gag clauses in any of their agreements with Traditional Owners. A spokesperson said it has been in consultations with Traditional Owners for more than two years.

"With input from Traditional Custodians, we have developed and implemented comprehensive cultural heritage management plans for the Scarborough and Pluto Expansion Projects to ensure the heritage values of the area are protected," she said.

"We work to ensure the protection and management of Murujuga’s cultural landscape is led by sound heritage management, which has also been informed by Traditional Custodians and science."

"Woodside has also commissioned leading practice ethnographic surveys to ensure songlines and other intangible heritage values are understood and impact mitigated.

"Woodside’s policy is work with Traditional Custodians to avoid impact to heritage wherever possible."

Ms Alec said she’d like to see a move away from fossil fuels.

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“Make a plan for renewable energies, put your money into that,” she said.

“Help us, help the Country, help Mother Earth and help humanity because that’s what it’s all about - sustainability, our life.

“The Country is our life force and if we don’t look after our life force we won’t have life, it’s as simple as that.”

Uncle Colin Churnside agreed, saying he doesn't want to see any more gas built on his Country.

"We've got plenty [of gas] already," he said.

"There should not be anymore industry on the Burrup."

Woodside is proposing to develop the Scarborough gas field, in the waters 375km north west of Karratha.

It would connect the resource to a proposed second LNG train at its Pluto LNG plant on the Burrup Peninsula through a 430km sea pipeline.

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