A kitchen stove gas ring
Woodside has reported a fall in profits as energy prices return to normal. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS
  • economy, business and finance

Woodside under the pump on climate risk as profit falls

Marion Rae February 27, 2024

Woodside Energy has been slammed for ignoring climate science as it presses ahead with the controversial Scarborough gas field it says will be the company’s next “crown jewel”.

The Perth-based oil and gas giant on Tuesday slashed the dividend paid to shareholders as it reported a sharply reduced annual profit due to lower commodity prices, inflationary pressures and asset writedowns.

Woodside’s fiscal 2023 net profit fell 74 per cent to $US1.66 billion as energy prices returned to normal levels, but shares in Woodside rose 25 cents or 0.8 per cent to $30.25 in afternoon trade.

The underlying profit was $US3.32 billion, down 37 per cent, as lower prices were partly offset by higher sales volumes and record production.

Releasing a new climate plan, CEO Meg O’Neill said Woodside was supplying energy the world needs from a high-quality portfolio in the right locations.

Woodside would “thrive through the energy transition” with global demand for LNG forecast to grow by 53 per cent in the next decade on demand from Asia and Europe.

Shareholders will vote on the climate plan at an annual general meeting on April 24, when Woodside’s chairman faces re-election.

“It is hard to see how chair Richard Goyder will appease frustrated investors with this climate plan,” lead analyst Alex Hillman at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility said.

“Woodside’s oil and gas growth opportunities deliver less value than a share buyback would,” Mr Hillman said.

The company declared a sharply lower fully franked final dividend of US 60 cents, for a total of $US1.40 for 2023 – down almost half on a year earlier.

Woodside CEO Meg O'Neill
 CEO Meg O’Neill says Woodside will ‘thrive through the energy transition’ as demand for LNG grows. Image by Aaron Bunch/AAP PHOTOS 

Record annual production was 187.2 million barrels of oil equivalent in the first full year of operations since acquiring BHP’s oil business, in line with market expectations.

But the Australian Conservation Foundation said Woodside “continues to ignore the community and climate science”, with the company’s direct emissions up by 15 per cent in a year.

Keeping a target of $US5 billion this decade for emission reduction, with only $US335 million invested to date, Woodside announced a new abatement target of five million tonnes per annum to 2030 from new energy products including hydrogen and carbon technology.

Ms O’Neill said the new target would allow Woodside to track the potential impact of those new investments on customers’ emissions.

She said Woodside was also lobbying the United States government for a “pragmatic approach” on production credits for green hydrogen on American soil.

“They’ve unfortunately set targets that are somewhere between very difficult and impossible to achieve around the matching frequency of green credits to green hydrogen production,” she said.

Market Forces CEO Will van de Pol said Woodside had “tried to pull the wool over investors’ eyes” with the new emission reduction target that was “rendered meaningless by the fine print” and dwarfed by production growth.

The massive Scarborough LNG project in the Carnarvon Basin off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia is 55 per cent complete and Woodside welcomed government plans to reform offshore approvals.

Ms O’Neill said the Pluto project near Karratha had been the key asset for Woodside since the 2010s and early 2020s, but Scarborough would be the “crown jewel for the upcoming 20 years”.

Last week, Woodside sold a 15.1 per cent stake in Scarborough in a $US1.4 billion deal with Japan’s largest utility JERA, that locks in further decades of gas sales, following a 10 per cent share sold to LNG Japan in 2023.

Woodside said the transactions “demonstrate the ongoing demand for new gas supplies to support regional security”.

Merger talks collapsed earlier this month with gas producer Santos on an $80 billion merger of Australia’s top two fossil fuel companies, and Ms O’Neill said there were no further talks.

The 2023 results included impairments of $US1.53 billion or $US1.92 billion pre-tax, largely for the Gulf of Mexico Shenzi asset acquired from BHP.