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ENERGY > Huge Australia gas plan moves forward

SYDNEY - Agence France-Presse

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. AFP photo

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. AFP photo

A proposed $30 billion gas export project in Australia’s remote west moved a step closer Monday when environmental regulators gave it the go-ahead subject to strict conditions.

The Browse liquefied natural gas project, operated by Woodside Petroleum in partnership with BHP Billiton, BP, Chevron and Shell, is expected to produce up to 50 million tonnes of LNG a year -- more than twice Australia’s current total exports.

The Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) approved it as long as it meets 29 conditions, including measures to protect whales, dolphins and turtles off the coast.

It also recommended that the development, which still needs approval from the Western Australian and national governments before it can proceed, should not interfere with fossilized dinosaur footprints in the area.

“The level of complexity in assessing this proposal was unprecedented,” said EPA chairman Paul Vogel in a statement, adding that it was the most detailed in the authority’s 40-year history.

“The assessment has been incredibly thorough. After carefully considering each environmental factor, I have recommended a rigorous set of 29 conditions and offsets to ensure the EPA’s environmental objectives are met.” Browse is among around a dozen gas export terminals planned in Australia, which stands to eclipse Qatar as the world’s largest exporter of LNG by the end of the decade, driven by global demand for cleaner energy sources.

Australia currently exports about 20 million tonnes of gas per annum, primarily to Asian countries, and the government has forecast total national capacity to quadruple in coming years to more than 80 million tonnes.

Woodside has said Browse, which comprises three offshore deep-water gas and condensate fields 425 kilometres north of Broome, will contribute more than Aus$50 billion to the Australian economy.

July/17/2012

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