Skip to content
Energy, Environment

‘The whales are in trouble:’ Traditional Custodian files legal challenge to Woodside’s seismic blasting approval

Environmental Defenders Office 3 mins read

A Traditional Custodian will ask the Federal Court to find that approval for Woodside Petroleum to carry out seismic blasting in her Sea Country was unlawful.

Gas giant Woodside said last week it was ready to begin seismic blasting for its Scarborough Gas Project, despite objections from Custodians who say they still have not been properly consulted, as required.

Woodside’s Scarborough project is a for-export LNG proposal off Murujuga/the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia, which will result in the release of an estimated 878.02 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.

Mardudhunera Traditional Custodian Raelene Cooper is deeply concerned about the seismic activity’s impact on their Sea Country including on whales and turtles, which are of high cultural importance.

She says she has not been given a chance to explain this properly to Woodside and has applied for a judicial review of the offshore regulator NOPSEMA’s decision to approve the blasts.

Despite finding that Woodside’s consultation with First Nations stakeholders, required by law, had been inadequate, NOPSEMA gave approval for the testing on July 31. Conditions were attached to the approval that further consultation needed to be carried out before commencement of the blasting.

Ms Cooper argues that NOPSEMA cannot grant the approval until she has been properly consulted; and alternatively that Woodside cannot begin seismic testing until Woodside has consulted with her, as required under the conditions of Woodside’s approval from NOPSEMA .

Plaintiff Raelene Cooper said:

“We can’t stress the importance and urgency of the government officials and climate activists to make a stand and do the right thing and stop this atrocious misconduct and use of these ocean blasting methods.

“The activities happening in our Sea Country are affecting places of cultural significance and disrupting our Songlines.

“The whales are showing us all around the world that they are in trouble, and if they are in trouble then so is our very existence.

“Woodside are not above the law and they’re not above our cultural lore.”

EDO Special Counsel Clare Lakewood said:

“Woodside has failed to adequately consult with our client about this seismic blasting, which could have serious impacts on her Sea Country and Songlines.

“They have not taken the time to gather all the relevant information about our client’s Sea Country and interests. In particular, our client has deep concerns about the seismic blasting’s effect on whales - which are highly culturally significant.

“NOPSEMA approved this blasting on July 31, but said more consultation needed to be done, because what Woodside has done so far didn’t meet NOPSEMA’s requirements.

“Last week, less than a fortnight later, Woodside said they were ready to start seismic blasting. How could they possibly have done meaningful, respectful and thorough consultation in that short time?”


Seismic testing involves blasting compressed air from a specially adapted ship. The noise from the blasts causes sound waves to bounce off the seabed back to sensors carried by the ship. It’s done to map fossil fuel reserves as a precursor to drilling.

The impact of seismic blasting on marine animals such as whales can include damage to the sensors that they use to hear, ability to communicate through their electro-frequencies, stress, displacement from habitat, physical injuries and death.1

In 2022, EDO client Dennis Tipakalippa successfully challenged approvals granted by NOPSEMA to gas company Santos for drilling its Barossa Gas Project, north of the Tiwi Islands. During the hearing Mr Tipakalippa and other Tiwi Traditional Owners demonstrated their deep cultural connection to the Sea Country, including through On-Country evidence.

The court agreed with Mr Tipakalippa and the Munupi clan that they had not been properly consulted on the project as stakeholders, as required by law, and overturned the approval. The decision was upheld on appeal by the Full bench of the Federal Court in November.



Contact details:

Mhairi McClymont: 042333974

More from this category

  • Agriculture Farming Rural, Environment
  • 07/12/2023
  • 18:50
Farmers for Climate Action

“We can go our hardest”: Aussie farmers’ stories on world stage as Farmers for Climate Action heads to climate meeting

AUDIO GRABS ATTACHED 7 December 2023 Farmers for Climate Action, an organisation representing more than 8000 Australian farmers, has launched a video at COP 28 in Dubai this week that is screening at the Australian Pavilion. The video, which can be viewed on the Farmers for Climate Action website and on Youtube features farmers who’ve experienced recent droughts and floods, and the innovative solutions they’ve adopted to make their farms more resilient while reducing emissions. One of the four farmers featured, Longreach grazier Jody Brown, called on leaders to make strong commitments to act on climate change: “We can go…

  • Contains:
  • Environment, General News
  • 07/12/2023
  • 12:42
OzFish Unlimited

Leading scientist says the carp herpes virus is needed

The carp herpes virus should be released into Australia’s freshwater rivers to save our native fish populations and their habitats. The bold move is…

  • Contains:
  • Environment, Foreign Affairs Trade
  • 07/12/2023
  • 12:03
Climate Council

Three key tests for Australia as Bowen arrives on the global climate stage

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE DATE THURSDAY 7 DECEMBER As Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen touches down in Dubai for the United Nations Climate Conference (COP28) the Climate Council says firm commitments and leadership are needed from the Albanese Government. Senior Researcher at the Climate Council, Dr. Wesley Morgan said: “The measure of Australia’s success on the international stage will be its support for an orderly and just phase out of coal, oil and gas.” Australia has made good progress at the United Nations talks, committing alongside other nations to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 and pledging to end the use…

Media Outreach made fast, easy, simple.

Feature your press release on Medianet's News Hub every time your distribute with Medianet. Pay per release or save with a subscription.