Residents at risk from new gas terminal proposal

Corio Bay where Viva Energy wants to build a gas terminal. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Residents and environmentalists are opposing plans for a new Viva Energy gas terminal project. More than 250 registered for an online forum, organised by , on October 13, which heard from residents who live near Corio Bay, where the gas terminal would be constructed.

Viva wants to build a floating gas terminal that will receive liquefied natural gas (LNG) delivered by LNG ships and permanently dock next to its current oil refinery. The facility is less than 2 kilometres from schools and residences and the LNG ships would pass within 250 metres of residences in Geelong’s North Shore.

Sally Fisher, who chaired the forum, said “a growing number of residents are saying they feel unsafe and are very disturbed”. She said the dredging may dislodge toxic sediments at the bottom of the bay and the chlorine used could affect fish and seagrass. There is also a risk of damaging the internationally recognised Ramsar Wetlands.

Garth Norman, a local resident and oil and gas industry professional, told the meeting of more than 120 people that he believed that the gas terminal and Corio Bay are not compatible as the risks are too great.

Norman said research commissioned by the United States Department of Energy and Sandia National Laboratories had concluded that a significant leak, either accidental or deliberate, could lead to deaths, serious injuries and damage to infrastructure within a radius of up to 3.5 kilometres.

More than 30,000 residents live within a 3.5 kilometre radius of the proposed terminal.

When LNG contacts water it is vapourised into a flammable cloud, which is heavier than air. The cloud spreads and can envelop a very large area. The vapour cloud presents an asphyxiation risk before finding a source of ignition. If that happens fire and explosion are almost inevitable.

The project poses a threat to the lives of an estimated 130 residents who live less than 500 metres from the shipping channel.

Norman also outlined how US authorities now mandate the distances of LNG facilities from residential areas, including exclusion zones in port areas. There are armed coast guard escorts for  LNG tankers and disruptions to traffic on bridges and adjacent roads are deemed essential.

Dr Coralie Jenkin, a North Shore resident and editor of a local newsletter, said her readers were unanimously opposed to Viva's project especially because of what she described as “Viva Energy’s poor safety record”.

Jenkin said the area is already  home to several hazardous industries, including wood chipping and fertiliser manufacture, that would worsen any disaster from  an LNG spill.

Jenkin noted that it was likely Viva would use the same tankers it uses to import crude oil. These Flags of Convenience ships — registered in another country to avoid Australian laws — have poor regulations, with their crews receiving low wages and minimal training, consequently increasing the risk of an accident.

Environment Victoria climate and energy analyst Raimundo Miralles said gas consumption is decreasing and that by 2025 it will have declined by 12.7%. He said this is driven by state government policies designed to encourage the use of renewable energy resources and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Geoff Wilson, a fishing writer with 50 years’ experience in Corio Bay, spoke about the impact of dredging contaminants, chlorine and refrigeration on fish, other marine life and local aquaculture businesses. He said he was worried that if the refinery closed and the gas terminal continued alone, super cold water will potentially be released causing further damage to sea life.

[Geelong Renewables Not Gas will  organise  against Viva Energy's proposal at Moorpanyal Park in the North Shore on November 7 at 12pm. Sign the petition to support the campaign .]