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McGowan reinforces backing for Scarborough gas project despite election’s climate concerns

WA Premier Mark McGowan has reinforced his backing for the huge Scarborough gas project in the face of growing calls since Saturday’s change of Federal Government for the development to be blocked.

Suggesting Scarborough was a fait accompli, Mr McGowan underlined that the go-ahead for future gas projects would focus on their promises to reach climate change goals with the aid of carbon offset programs and the contentious use of carbon capture and storage.

“Those approvals are all done,” Mr McGowan said of Scarborough, which is being developed by Woodside Energy at a cost of $US12 billion ($16.5b).

“There’s significant offsets of the emissions from that project and obviously those issues will have to be worked through,” he told journalists on Wednesday.

“But offsetting emissions and making sure we have carbon capture and storage are going to be important parts of what happens with gas projects in the future.”

Emboldened by sharp swings on the weekend, the Greens and newly-elected teal candidates have demanded tougher climate action from the Albanese Government, with Greens leader Adam Bandt arguing that allowing Scarborough to proceed would make it harder for the new government to meet its emission reduction targets.

However, it seems unlikely the Government will pick a fight in WA given Mr McGowan’s personal popularity and the hefty State swing to Labor he is seen as helping orchestrate in Saturday’s election.

Woodside has already approved the project, but climate activists argue there is no place for the development in the transition to cleaner energy.

Oil and gas companies are already warning that any tougher action on Australia’s carbon emissions should be considered in parallel with the need to guarantee energy security.

Woodside chief executive Meg O’Neill suggested that customers cared less about emissions if they couldn’t secure their energy needs.

Customers wanted “energy that’s reliable, affordable and lower carbon”, Ms O’Neill told the World Gas Conference in South Korea. “But if it’s not reliable or affordable, lower carbon goes out the widow.”

“Customers are doubling down and saying ‘let’s start with security and reliability, because we need energy to keep our lights on, to keep our homes warm, to keep our businesses running’.”

WA’s oil and gas companies believe they can work within the Government’s potentially tougher climate change agenda, despite the renewed pressure from activists to halt fossil fuel developments.

The Government has already rejected demands for more aggressive decarbonisation policies that would threaten the likes of Scarborough, but there are warnings that approvals for new oil and gas projects could become tougher.

Strike Energy, which is evaluating the potential to use Mid West gas to make fertiliser, expects new developments to face even more scrutiny and consumers to demand more accountability over the merits of future projects.

Managing director Stuart Nicholls said Strike’s proposed urea project would reduce Australia’s reliance on imported fertiliser and support the nation’s food security.

“Strike’s fertiliser development would reduce carbon impact of Australia’s urea consumption by 60 per cent, while providing security of supply and competitive prices”, Mr Nicholls said.

“The question everyone is now asking is, ‘is the carbon worth the cost?’.

“It’s going to become harder for fossil fuel developers and producers, particularly in coal but a bit less less so in oil and gas, to justify their role in the energy landscape, particularly in electrification.

“We have got world-class renewable energy in this country and we can easily displace a lot of the electrons that we consume with forms of sustainable energy.

“However, our heavy and manufacturing industries are much harder to electrify and that is where Strike’s gas has a meaningful role to play in a low carbon environment”.

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