Former Chevron employee wins government gas advisor role, prompting conflict of interest concerns

former chevron employee wins government gas advisor role, prompting conflict of interest concerns

Approval for the controversial expansion of the Karratha Gas Plant was given in 2022, sparking hundreds of appeals from environmental groups. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

The WA Environment Minister says he is seeking legal advice over concerns an expert appointed to consider appeals against a controversial gas expansion used to work for one of the companies involved in the project.

Biosecurity expert Professor Simon McKirdy is the co-chair of an appeals committee set up to assess the 2022 decision to approve extending the life of the Karratha Gas Plant, part of the massive North West Shelf group of projects operated by Woodside as part of a joint venture with five other companies.

One of those companies is Chevron, which is a one-sixth foundation owner in the North West Shelf project.

It's also where Professor McKirdy worked as a biosecurity science and risk manager between 2013 and 2016, according to his LinkedIn page.

More recently, he's served as director of the Harry Butler Institute at Murdoch University, which was launched by Chevron in 2018 to support sustainability and environmental protection through research.

Environment Minister Reece Whitby said he sought the advice about the possible conflict after environmental groups raised the issue with him.

Opposition to gas approval

The contentious Karratha gas expansion was given the green light after the state's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) recommended the minister approve extending the life of the Karratha Gas Plant to 2070, while insisting on measures to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

The recommendation prompted hundreds of appeals from environmental groups, who were concerned the 50-year extension would blow Australia's carbon budget on the path to net zero.

In response, an independent Appeals Committee was appointed to assess the appeals and the EPA response, before making a fresh recommendation to the Climate Action Minister.

Concern over past employment

In April, some of the appellants were notified that the Minister had appointed Professor McKirdy and former Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions boss Mark Webb as joint co-chairs of the Appeals Committee.

Earlier this month the Australian Conservation Foundation and Greenpeace wrote to the Minister outlining their concerns about Professor McKirdy's past employment.

Professor McKirdy has extensive experience in biosecurity and is currently Murdoch's Deputy Vice Chancellor of Global Engagement, while also working as a researcher at the Harry Butler Institute.

His LinkedIn page shows he worked as a biosecurity science and risk manager for Chevron between 2013 and 2016 and sat on the Biosecurity Council of Western Australia between 2014 and 2023.

It then records his appointment as Director of the Harry Butler Institute between late-2017 and early-2023, and a stint as Pro Vice-Chancellor of the Institute between 2019 and 2023.

Chevron’s current involvement with the Institute is unclear, although the university’s 2021 annual report described the company as a “key supporter of the Institute”.

Professor McKirdy directed requests for comment to the Minister or the Office of the Appeals Convenor.

Government taking advice: Whitby

Mr Whitby told the ABC he had received the letter.

"In a place like Western Australia where you have people with experience in environmental areas, there is always going to be some issue where someone may have worked at a place previously," he said.

"That does not necessarily exclude you from being involved in these processes.

"But we will take some careful advice from state solicitors, and we will consider that issue."

Mr Whitby said he had not been aware Mr McKirdy had previously been employed by Chevron before receiving the letter.

"But it does not surprise me because I think he also has experience with other organisations and in the scientific and environmental field," he said.

"Highly qualified people often work at a number of places.

"But we will take the best advice on that. We want to ensure that the process is appropriate."

Elizabeth Sullivan from the Australian Conservation Foundation said the groups were still waiting on a response from the Minister.

"A record 776 appeals have been lodged, indicating the great public interest in ensuring that the NWS extension proposal is carefully considered," she said in a statement to the ABC.

"We urge the Minister to respond to our concerns and assure the public that a rigorous due-diligence process has occurred to ensure no conflict of interest exists."

OTHER NEWS

5 minutes ago

Octopus Energy to pay back nearly £3billion to Government for Bulb takeover

5 minutes ago

Netflix teases details about Bridgerton season 4 after Nicola Coughlan steals the show

5 minutes ago

Russia's Suspected Spy Ship Fleet in North Sea Raises Cold War Era Fears

5 minutes ago

Which Golfers Have Won Olympic Medals?

5 minutes ago

For a rising class of rap cyborgs, there's mastery in the mumble

5 minutes ago

Supreme Court upholds federal ban on guns for domestic abusers

5 minutes ago

'Slave Play' playwright Jeremy O. Harris is on a mission to diversify theater

5 minutes ago

Yorgos Lanthimos exhausts his ideas, and his audience, in 'Kinds of Kindness'

5 minutes ago

Taylor Wily Dies: ‘Hawaii Five-0’ Actor Was 56

5 minutes ago

OWN’s Freshman Dating Series ‘The Never Ever Mets’ Scores Early Season 2 Renewal

5 minutes ago

Edmonton Oilers looking to push Stanley Cup Final to a Game 7 against Florida Panthers

5 minutes ago

2 Capilano University campuses closed due to ‘targeted, specific security threat’

5 minutes ago

Stanley Cup Final: A look at the historical significance of Connor McDavid’s 2024 playoff run

5 minutes ago

ANALYSIS: Extended breaks between Stanley Cup games good for business

5 minutes ago

Rising gas station sales boosted retail activity in April, StatCan says

5 minutes ago

Family of taekwondo black belts saves woman from alleged sex assault in Texas

5 minutes ago

Alberta NDP bids farewell to outgoing leader Rachel Notley

5 minutes ago

4 shot dead in rural southwestern Ontario home

5 minutes ago

Former Surrey mayor Linda Hepner to run for BC Conservatives

5 minutes ago

U.S. to ban Kaspersky cybersecurity products over security concerns

5 minutes ago

‘Sick to our stomach’: Ontario family mourns after dog dies at boarding business

5 minutes ago

BMW 1 Series to be reinvented as radical EV hatchback

8 minutes ago

Monty Don calls Chelsea Flower Show competitions 'meaningless'

59 minutes ago

When is Shania Twain performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and how to watch

59 minutes ago

Scotland's Tierney returns home from Euros with injury

59 minutes ago

Czechs aim to attack more, shackle Georgia's 'Kvara-dona'

59 minutes ago

China deputy propaganda chief under corruption investigation

1 hour ago

Judge hearing arguments on Trump's effort to invalidate appointment of special prosecutor Jack Smith

1 hour ago

Coraline 2 Trailer: How AI Is Creating Bedlam For Fans Craving A Sequel

1 hour ago

Legal Sea Foods Chicago location at Marina City Towers reveals renderings, opening date

1 hour ago

Ex-Trump aide Steve Bannon loses appeal over jail sentence meaning he’ll go to prison within days

1 hour ago

Home prices hit record high in May as sales stall

1 hour ago

Peter Phillips and his NHS nurse girlfriend Harriet Sperling pack on the PDA as they join the King and Queen at Royal Ascot

1 hour ago

Video: Haunting final words of husband electrocuted to death in hot tub revealed by his widow

1 hour ago

Video: Southwest Boeing 737 plunges within 500 feet of Oklahoma neighborhood setting off emergency alarms and terrifying residents who feared it was going to crash into their homes

1 hour ago

Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis' wallet-friendly wardrobe for sweet birthday tribute to Prince William - including a £9 Next T-shirt

1 hour ago

Revealed: Leicestershire bowler Chris Wright's mysterious absence from County Championship is due to a failed drugs test last year - with veteran attributing positive result due to cross-contamination

1 hour ago

Spanish Grand Prix: Start time, full schedule and where to watch as McLaren and Ferrari look to close in on Max Verstappen and Red Bull at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

1 hour ago

The football transfer that's sparked death threats to a child: Former Chelsea star Michy Batshuayi's wife wipes her Instagram comments with her husband on the verge of the summer's most controversial move

1 hour ago

I couldn't afford a place in London – so I built my own home