As Woodside seeks approval to develop the Browse offshore gas field near Broome, documents obtained by Greenpeace under FOI have revealed that the tourist hotspot was subject to “unbearable” aircraft noise during the last wave of offshore construction.

During the construction phases of the Prelude and Ichthys offshore facilities, a helicopter arrived or departed approximately every twenty minutes during the peak of the activity, with military-style choppers frequently operating outside curfew hours, even on public holidays.

If Woodside’s Browse facility gets approval, Broome can expect far worse.

“Not only is Woodside’s Browse a disaster for our climate and for WA nature, but it will create absolute helicopter hell for residents in Broome,” said Environs Kimberley Director of Strategy Martin Pritchard.

“This is just one more reason why Woodside’s Browse project can’t be allowed to go ahead. We need federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to protect our beautiful Kimberley coast and Broome’s multi-million dollar tourism industry, and to stop Woodside in its tracks.”

Proprietor of the Broome Hire Centre and local tourism operator Don Bacon said Woodside’s helicopters were too damaging for tourism: “Tourists come to Broome for the relaxed holiday feel - why would they holiday here if they are going to be assaulted by a pre-dawn chorus of military style helicopters? This can’t be allowed to happen. The town’s main industry is tourism; industrial noise is not compatible with a thriving visitor economy here. We want Broome to be Broome, not to turn it into Karratha!”


In July 2017, the Prelude FLNG arrived in WA waters, some 475 kms north of Broome. Eighteen months later, on Boxing Day 2018, it became operational. Inpex also started producing at the neighboring Ichthys facility that year.

Construction and mining workers at both of these offshore facilities need to travel there by helicopter from Broome. The initial stages of setting up these facilities are particularly labour intensive and require large numbers of helicopter movements.

Browse Basin

“As the offshore facilities are progressively hooked-up and commissioned, the number of workers and vessels required offshore will gradually reduce,” Inpex wrote at the time. “This transition will also see an aligned reduction in the number of helicopter flights operating out of Broome.”

Over those two years, noise complaints in Broome went through the roof. Airservices Australia data, released exclusively to Greenpeace Australia Pacific, show a tenfold increase in complaints from Broome in 2017-18 compared with other years.

Complaints to Airservices Australia from Broome

It is little wonder that this happened. Helicopter traffic regularly peaked at over 1000 flights per month in that period. That’s 33 per day, and if all those flights had been crammed into daylight hours, it equals one flight almost every 20 minutes. Unfortunately, much of the traffic occurred at night or early in the morning, making the noise particularly disruptive, according to complaints.

No other time has come close to matching this. Throughout much of the period, starting in June 2017, when PHI began flying its helicopters out of Broome, helicopter flights made up a third of all traffic at Broome airport.

The helicopters used are twin-engined models that are significantly larger than joyflight tourist helicopters also seen in Broome.

Helicopter flights per month at Broome

Greenpeace has obtained copies of complaints made in Broome during the construction period. Highlighting the extent of the issue, the complaints included the following statements:

  • “It's 6 am on Saturday morning and I have been awake since about 5am this morning due to the continuous loud helicopter noise, which has also woken my small children.”
  • “These aircraft fly over early every morning and then fly in and out all day.”
  • “Helicopter noise from Broome airport is so loud it woke me up. It drones on and on, before sunrise, in the day and now after 11pm at night. Can't sleep at night, can't sleep in in the mornings, can't concentrate in the day with these incessant periodic noise events. Health hazard.”
  • “I have had tourists telling me they won't be coming back to Broome next year if this is how it is going to be, too bloody noisy.”
  • "Sick to death of living in what feels and sounds [like] a war zone."
  • “The impact of these helicopters is immense and it's really unbearable to hear those blades over your house. I contacted these cowboys and the airport in the past but now they don't take my calls anymore.”
  •  “The helicopters are using my place as a navigational point. They should be flying somewhere else instead of right over my house.”
  •  “The airport is very close into the Broome township. The helicopters make unacceptable noise levels near residential areas. When is the helicopter base going to be moved?”
  • “Why do the helicopters sound like they are just driving up and down for an hour, its very noisy and if its not at 7-9pm its 5.45am-6.45am its very annoying and being a shift worker either end is hard to sleep. I cant wear and shouldn't have to wear earplugs.”
  • “Would like to lodge a complaint for helicopter noise last twenty minutes or so, just sitting there on the runway, also excessive noise from helicopters early in the mornings taking off and returning as well as training ones on Friday nights.”

If Woodside’s Browse facility gets approval, Broome can expect far worse.

Woodside’s proposed project will dwarf what is already in place in terms of both scale and complexity - and that will mean a sharp rise in helicopter traffic.

The complexities of projects like Browse are myriad,” the AFR has reported, “and they stretch way beyond the technical, geological and geographic.”

Woodside’s Browse operation is massively bigger than what is already in place, and will triple local production. At 11.4 million tonnes per annum, Woodside’s Browse operation is more than double the combined capacities of Prelude and Ichthys (3.6 MTPA and 1.6 MTPA).

Woodside’s project will exist in waters as deep as 700 metres, more than twice as deep as the 250 metre waters where the existing projects operate.

This will all, of course, also require a workforce that is significantly greater than was previously used.

The airport says 45,000 per year are already transported by helicopter to work on oil and gas facilities.

Unfortunately for residents, tourists and tourism operators in Broome, the approval of Woodside’s project will mean many more helicopters - in the short term, and in the long run.

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