Why a farmer in WA’s Wheatbelt is rallying against a gas project 1800km away

WA Today
Peter de Kruijff
July 23, 2022

Farmers Simon Wallwork and Cindy Stevens were living the dream when they bought their own property near Corrigin in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt two decades ago.

The 3700 hectare property is a 229-kilometre drive from Perth and supports crops, sheep and cattle.

But farming is never easy and it’s a changing climate that Wallwork says the couple have been battling ever since they bought the property.

“We’ve lost 20 per cent of our growing season rainfall in the past 20 years, we’ve also recently had the devastating fires at Corrigin, which burnt 40,000 hectares,” he said.

“It got to our western boundary and luckily the wind changed.”

The pair started a grassroots movement, AgZero2030, three years ago to promote primary industries tackling climate change, a topic that is gaining more traction among farmers.

An increase in atmospheric carbon over the past 50 years has improved wheat yields by up to 8 per cent in WA while water-use efficiency measures have been able to stay ahead of declines in rainfall.

But a greater variability in rainfall and shorter growing seasons along with higher temperatures will have an impact on crop yields.

Wallwork was one of 759 appellants to voice opposition to Woodside’s North West Shelf project extension, which could put 4.3 billion tonnes of carbon into the air if it keeps running to 2070, and question the WA Environmental Protection Authority’s recommendation last month the project be able to go ahead.

The farmer said he was concerned the EPA had not considered the direct effects on industries like agriculture.

“The other point too is the approvals based on this 2050 carbon-neutral target for the [North West Shelf] project means they will be relying on carbon offsets,” Wallwork said.

Woodside is seeking to continue operations of the North West Shelf project and Karratha Gas Plant until 2070.

“That’s going to put a lot of pressure on food producing land if we’re going to plant trees to offset emissions from fossil fuel projects.

“Agriculture understands we need to decarbonise as well but it is the large producing sectors like the energy sector, such as this project that needs to do the heavy lifting.

“We want our kids to be farming, so what sort of environment will they be farming in if we continue to pollute like this?”

The EPA believes the Woodside project can go ahead as long as it steadily reduces operating emissions by meeting five-yearly reduction targets.

A Woodside spokesperson said the North West Shelf project had an important role to play in delivering gas to local and international customers and providing energy that could support decarbonisation commitments in a time of heightened concern around energy security.

“The continued operation of this critical infrastructure can unlock new gas supply for Western Australian and global customers, supporting the delivery of affordable and reliable energy for years to come,” they said.

“The North West Shelf continues to be a significant contributor to Australian GDP and a major employer, providing jobs and investment in the Pilbara region and the state of Western Australia.”

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