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Call to block Woodside's $50b gas peninsula expansion

A proposed expansion of a regional gas production hub would put sacred rock art at risk and add to climate change, critics warn.

In an open letter to Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek released on Wednesday, two former Western Australian Premiers, Indigenous leaders and dozens of other prominent Australians have urged her to oppose Woodside Energy's plans.

The proposed $50 billion hub on the Burrup Peninsula in the Pilbara region threatens Australia's global climate obligations and outstanding cultural heritage values, the signatories say.

Former WA Premier Carmen Lawrence said the Albanese government has an opportunity to "stand up for the national interest rather than Woodside's interests".

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"It's time this government gets real about the six billion tonnes of emissions from Woodside's Burrup Hub and the threat to precious rock art and culture on Murujuga," she said.

The landscape contains over one million unique and ancient petroglyphs, making it the largest and oldest outdoor art gallery on earth.

The signatories cite scientific studies which show acid emissions are eroding remaining rock art sites, after thousands were destroyed during initial construction of the Karratha Gas Plant in the area in the 1980s.

Minister for Environment Tanya Plibersek.
Tanya Plibersek is being urged to protect Pilbara rock art from a Woodside development. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

"The government is strongly committed to protecting the Murujuga Cultural Landscape," a spokesperson for Ms Plibersek told AAP.

"It is a spectacular and deeply important area that deserves to be recognised for its significance," she said.

The WA government in February confirmed no further new development on the peninsula and transferred 254 hectares of land to the Murujuga National Park, including four sites located in the Withnell Bay area that were originally set aside for heavy industry.

There are six projects that make up the Burrup Hub, including two under assessment by the federal government.

The federal department responsible has paused the national environment law assessment of the two projects until it receives further information requested from the WA government and the proponent.

This means that no federal government decision has yet been made on either project.

Murujuga traditional custodian Raelene Cooper
The signatories says scientific studies show acid emissions are eroding Murujuga rock art sites. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

"Aside from huge carbon pollution, the direct impacts of this project on the Murujuga rock art proposed for World Heritage listing are likely to be profound and irreversible," the letter said.

"We urge you to take this urgent, vital historic step to save Australia's most significant rock art heritage."

In 2023, the area was nominated for a World Heritage listing in recognition of its "Outstanding Universal Value".

Yindjibarndi Elder Tootsie Daniel said Murujuga was a significant gathering place where people have always come together.

"It's a place where the Elders take the children to be closer to us ... It is very much alive," she said.

"We want people to respect it. Nothing is to be touched. Nothing is to be removed. The site is important and it's very dangerous to do anything to it."

The hub is designed to bolster the existing Pluto LNG and North West Shelf projects by creating a regional production hub for gas from the vast Scarborough and Browse fields to be prepared for export to Asia.

Former Australian of the the year Professor Fiona Stanley, also a signatory to the letter, said the science was "overwhelming" on the climate damage from burning fossil fuels

"The current and future health and wellbeing of our societies and future generations depends on urgent, immediate cessation," she said.

Woodside has rejected accusations it is preparing to detonate a "climate bomb" that would dwarf national efforts to reduce emissions.