Leaders Survey: Woodside boss Meg O’Neill says leaders need to stand for things that matter

Matt Mckenzie
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Meg O'Neill is staying true to herself.
Meg O'Neill is staying true to herself. Credit: Ian and Erick/Ian and Erick

Woodside Energy chief executive Meg O’Neill says a leader needs to be prepared to “stand for things that matter”, after a high-pressure 30 months running the company.

The ASX-listed business started construction of the $18 billion Scarborough gas project off Australia’s northwest coast under her leadership, set to boost the country’s export revenue by billions annually.

The company has also pledged about $8bn for lower-carbon energy and nailed a merger with BHP’s petroleum arm in her time, becoming a major gas supplier on the east coast.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

But activists have scaled up their criticism of the Perth-based business, targeting Woodside’s office building with an alleged fake gas leak.

The campaign culminated in a shock protest at Ms O’Neill’s home last year which led to trespass charges. That left her “shaken, fearful and distressed”, she said at the time.

Ms O’Neil has pressed on. In an interview for The Nightly’s Leaders Survey, she highlighted integrity and authenticity as the key attributes for a good leader.

“There are moments when you will be tested, but acting with integrity and doing what’s right will always serve you and your team well,” she said.

The best advice she had received was “to be true to yourself,” Ms O’Neill said.

“You can always learn from other leaders, and you can always develop your skills, but you will be most effective when you are authentically ‘you’,” she said.

Woodside’s big Scarborough development will employ 3200 workers in construction and then 600 more during operations, which are slated to start in 2026.

Ms O’Neill said the project would pay tax equal to building a new public hospital every three years.

The industry earned Australia $90bn in 2022, making it among the country’s top exports. Woodside banked $US 1.7bn ($2.6bn) of profit in 2023, with a sharp decline as oil and gas prices cooled from peaks.

Meg O'Neill values authenticity.
Meg O'Neill values authenticity. Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

Scarborough’s natural gas will be drawn from a field hundreds of kilometres off the Western Australian coast and pumped to a plant near Karratha in the Pilbara, the nation’s resources heartland.

The gas is then processed and chilled to a freezing cold temperature of -160 degrees Celsius. Gas that cold turns into a liquid — known as liquefied natural gas or LNG — shrinking in size about 600-fold, to then be pumped onto a ship for export to Asia.

Processing the gas and use by the end customer for industrial production or generating power both cause carbon emissions, which has drawn controversy amid a continued global push to net zero by 2050.

“Gas is needed to enable Australian industry, including the critical minerals required for electrification, and as backup to renewables when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine,” Ms O’Neill said.

“The gas Woodside exports as LNG. . . supports the decarbonisation ambitions of our customers in Asia.

“We need policy and regulatory settings that support investment in the gas industry or we put at risk jobs, Australian and regional energy security and plans for decarbonisation.”

She called on political leaders to back in the role of gas, and for bipartisanship on fiscal and political stability.

The industry has been shaken by uncertainty after a series of court challenges.

Woodside’s Scarborough was affected when a Federal Court judge sensationally binned the regulatory approval for seismic work off the coast. Santos faced down a challenge to the planned route of its Barossa gas pipeline in the Timor Sea north of Darwin.

When asked what she wanted to see at the upcoming Federal Government budget, Ms O’Neill isn’t after money.

“An unambiguous statement supporting the Australian gas industry and the implementation of policy reforms to remove the current barriers to responsible development of new supply,” she said.

“The best part of that is it wouldn’t cost Treasury a single dollar!”

Australia’s most exciting opportunity is to become an energy transition superpower, she said.

The country has plenty of natural advantages.

“(A)bundant renewable, gas and mineral resources; significant potential land availability; suitable geological formations for carbon storage; a highly educated, skilled and diverse workforce; a track record of early-stage innovation; strong regional trade relations; and a reputation for safe and reliable energy production and export,” Ms O’Neill said.

“These factors, if we can combine them with the right policy and regulatory settings across all levels of government, make Australia uniquely competitive as the world transitions to a lower-carbon future.”

Colorado-born Ms O’Neill joined Woodside in 2018 as chief operations officer, after a career with American super-major ExxonMobil.

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 15-04-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 15 April 202415 April 2024

Justice Lee finds Lehrmann ‘hell-bent on having sex’ with Higgins and ‘didn’t care if she knew what was going on’