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Bloomberg: Inpex Faces Environmental Opposition to Australian LNG Project

By Angela Macdonald-Smith

April 12 (Bloomberg) — Inpex Holdings Inc., Japan’s largest oil explorer, faces opposition from environmental groups to a potential A$10 billion ($8.3 billion) liquefied natural gas project it plans to build off the northwestern Australian coast.

Environs Kimberley Inc. and Cultural Heritage and Environmental Advocacy for the Kimberley, or CHEAK, are among groups that made submissions to a Western Australian environment agency voicing fears about the potential effects on wildlife and Aboriginal heritage sites. Australian Conservation Foundation said it has “grave concerns” about the project.

Inpex and partner Total SA plan to build two 3.8 million tons-a-year LNG production units on the Maret Islands off Western Australia, Tokyo-based Inpex said in a draft environmental document that was released March 12 for public comment. A Woodside Petroleum Ltd.-led venture plans to build a separate LNG project in the same Browse Basin region, where there has been no large-scale industrial development.

“We’re looking at the mass industrialization of one of Australia’s last great wilderness areas,” Peter Tucker of CHEAK said today in a telephone interview from Broome, Western Australia. “They want to turn the Kimberley into another Pilbara,” Australia’s principal region for LNG and iron ore production, he said.

Paris-based Total, Europe’s third-biggest oil producer and the world’s second-biggest non-government-owned LNG producer, in August acquired a 24 percent stake in Inpex’s Ichthys field, which holds an estimated 9.5 trillion cubic feet of gas and 312 million barrels of condensates, a type of light oil. The venture aims to start LNG deliveries at the end of 2012.

Expansion Plans

The venture plans a second phase, involving increasing the size of the production units to 5.5 million tons a year, plus or minus 10 percent to a combined maximum capacity of 12 million tons, Inpex said in the environmental document. The site Inpex proposes to use on Maret Island could eventually hold as many as five production units, Sean Kildare, a Perth-based spokesman for Inpex, said last month.

Kildare couldn’t be reached for comment today.

The proposed Ichthys LNG plant would produce about 10 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, accounting for 1.4 percent of Australia’s total greenhouse emissions, possibly rising to 2 percent, CHEAK said in an e- mailed statement.

The group has support from Australian musicians and sporting personalities, taking a lead from the success that a group of Hollywood stars led by Pierce Brosnan is having in California in raising public opposition to an LNG import terminal proposed by BHP Billiton Ltd., Tucker said.

`On Hold’

Environs Kimberley in its submission urged the Western Australian government to place the environmental assessment process for Ichthys and similar projects “on hold” pending a government assessment of industrial projects along the Kimberley coast.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has “grave concerns about the impact of gas processing plant on the Maret Islands,” said Jann Crase, a Cairns-based spokeswoman. The group has asked State Development Minister Eric Ripper for a round table meeting to discuss the “multiple” developments, she said.

LNG is natural gas chilled to liquid form for delivery by tanker to destinations not connected by pipeline. On delivery it is turned back into gaseous form and distributed to users such as power stations, households and factories.

BP Plc, BHP Billiton Ltd., Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc have stakes in Woodside’s Browse LNG project.

To contact the reporter on this story: Angela Macdonald-Smith in Sydney at [email protected] .

Last Updated: April 12, 2007 04:16 EDT

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