Editorial: Gas shortage shows the need to cut green tape

Responsibility for the editorial comment is taken by WAN Editor-in-Chief Anthony De Ceglie

It’s a pre-Christmas surprise that will add even more stress to families struggling to balance the household budget.
The independent Australian Energy Market Operator says WA is likely to face a gas shortage next year, pushing prices higher amid an already crushing cost-of-living crisis.
And the budget pain won’t only be felt through the household gas bill.
The gas shortage will also affect manufacturers and businesses. That means it could cause the cost of just about everything to rise.
Unless we boost supply now, the problem will only get worse. The amount of gas needed to support the power grid is expected to surge more than 56 per cent across the next decade as WA switches off coal power stations. The report says that a whopping 27 per cent of gas demand could go unmet in that time, unless new sources come online. It’s a mad situation, given our State’s abundance of the stuff. It’s estimated that more than 60 per cent of Australia’s recoverable conventional gas reserves are in WA. Yet we will struggle to keep the lights on, unless we are able to harness them.
The warning from the AEMO comes soon after a legal challenge stopped seismic work at Woodside’s $17 billion Scarborough gas project off the Pilbara coast. Woodside has since been given the all-clear to continue the testing.
In a separate decision, the Federal Court halted Santos from laying pipeline at its $5.8 billion Barossa project off the Northern Territory after claims the underwater pipeline will “damage sea country, dreaming tracks, song lines and areas of cultural significance”. That dispute is yet to be resolved.
These cases illustrate the difficulties that much-needed new projects face in getting off the ground, thanks in part to well-funded activists intent on using lawfare to bring progress to a screeching halt.
It’s promising to see the State Government taking the lead in smoothing the path as best it can for projects to proceed.
Premier Roger Cook this week announced sweeping changes to WA’s environmental assessment regime designed to slash green tape.
Among the proposed reforms include an amendment to hand the Environment Minister new powers to force faster assessments for proposals of “State significance”, as well as employing external consultants to help clear existing backlogs. Under the changes, the Environmental Protection Authority would be required to take into account the State Government’s priorities when considering approvals and the regulator’s board will be bolstered to include members with industry experience. EPA assessments will also be permitted to run parallel with — rather than prior to — other government approvals processes.
The Federal Government, on the other hand, appears intent on tying up new developments with green tape, including adding another level of bureaucracy by establishing a new national environmental protection agency.
It’s another area in which WA is leading the way, as the Commonwealth falls behind.