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Bloomberg: Australia Allows Woodside Project to Proceed in Rock Art Area

By Dinakar Sethuraman

July 3 (Bloomberg) — Australia’s government allowed Woodside Petroleum Ltd. to proceed with the proposed Pluto liquefied natural gas project as planned by giving companies permission to move indigenous rock drawings.

The government demarcated 1 percent of the Dampier Archipelago, including the Burrup Peninsula, in Western Australia for development and kept the rest of the area as a national heritage site, Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s minister for environment and water resources, said in a statement today on the ministry’s Web site.

Woodside, Australia’s second-largest oil and gas producer, was told by the government in September to re-route a gas pipeline and access roadway for its Pluto project to save the rock drawings. Changes to the development plan could have increased costs.

“Woodside welcomes the heritage listing because it recognizes heritage and industry can co-exist on Burrup,” Hannah Fitzhardinge, spokeswoman of Woodside Petroleum, said in a telephone interview from Perth today. “We had two heritage approvals until now and an environmental approval that applied to site preparation.”

Woodside’s board last year approved A$192 million ($164 million) of spending to start engineering work on Pluto, which will involve an initial production unit of between 5 million and 6 million metric tons a year. The Australian Greens Party had asked Prime Minister John Howard to protect the rock paintings, which are as old as 40,000 years.

Rising Demand

Global LNG demand may more than triple by the end of next decade, with consumption in Europe and North America overtaking demand in Asia by about 2015, according to a Wood Mackenzie Consultants Ltd. estimate.

Woodside’s plan for Burrup involves building a wholly owned LNG plant on the Burrup Peninsula to process gas from the Pluto field off the Western Australian coast and gas from other suppliers. The company’s board is due to consider the project at a meeting in August.

“The site preparation for Pluto is under way,” Woodside’s Fitzhardinge said. “We still need a major environmental approval from the Western Australian government and from the federal government.”

Woodside may pipe gas from fields in the Browse Basin off the northwestern coast to either the Pluto LNG project or the existing North West Shelf plant, both on the Burrup Peninsula, Perth-based Woodside said in a presentation on June 27.

The Australian company is also operator of the North West Shelf venture, which is adding a fifth production unit on the Burrup Peninsula. It also owns about 50 percent of the Browse LNG project, where its partners are BHP Billiton Ltd., BP Plc, Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, which owns 34 percent of Woodside.

Australia’s northwest, which includes the Kimberley and Pilbara regions covering about 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles), is “one of the world’s last true wilderness areas,” Tourism Australia says on its Web site.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dinakar Sethuraman in Singapore at [email protected] .
Last Updated: July 3, 2007 07:10 EDT

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