Gas project fac­ing wet­lands hur­dle

The Australian - - THE NATION - SA­MAN­THA HUTCHIN­SON VIC­TO­RIAN PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER

State gov­ern­ment at­tempts to bring en­ergy prices down in Victoria with the help of an AGL gas im­port fa­cil­ity near Phillip Is­land are fac­ing a huge chal­lenge from a res­i­dents group which says the float­ing ter­mi­nal will threaten Ram­sar-recog­nised wet­lands.

As the An­drews gov­ern­ment heads to an elec­tion promis­ing to lower power prices, Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula res­i­dents say a plan to build a float­ing gas im­port fa­cil­ity and pipe­line at Crib Point will put the wet­lands, and plant and wildlife close to Phillip Is­land, at risk.

The Save Western Port group met AGL rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Satur­day and heard de­tails of the plan, in­clud­ing a float­ing 300m ves­sel to con­vert liq­ue­fied gas into nat­u­ral gas at Crib Point, on Western Port.

Res­i­dents say they are con­cerned about the im­pacts of the re­gasi­fi­ca­tion ves­sel on the bay.

The ves­sel uses sea­wa­ter to help warm the LNG back into a gas form, and then re­turns the sea­wa­ter, with trace amounts of chlo­rine, into the sea about 7C cooler. Res­i­dents want the gov­ern­ment to com­mit to an in­de­pen­dent en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment of the project, along­side the stan­dard en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment process, be­fore con­sid­er­ing whether the com­pany can go ahead with the project.

“To turn the LNG into use­able form, a 300m-long gas fac­tory ship will suck in more than 450 mil­lion litres of sea­wa­ter a day and re­turn it both chlo­ri­nated and colder. No­body knows what ef­fect this will have on the bay and its wildlife,” Save Western Port mem­ber Louise Page said. “If the ap­provals process ex­cludes an ex­ten­sive, in­de­pen­dent en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment, it will be plain that the An­drews gov­ern­ment is hedg­ing its bets when it comes to Victoria’s en­ergy fu­ture.”

Plan­ning Min­is­ter Richard Wynne says the as­sess­ment process has just started, with AGL lodg­ing its en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects state­ment on Septem­ber 10.

He said the gov­ern­ment would first as­sess the en­v­i­ron- men­tal im­pacts of the project be­fore start­ing to as­sess the more gen­eral plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion. “This doc­u­men­ta­tion will be care­fully con­sid­ered be­fore any de­ci­sion is made, as the com­mu­nity would ex­pect,” Mr Wynne said.

The project is the key plank of a slew of gas mar­ket re­forms un­veiled last year to bring down en­ergy prices in Victoria.

On Fri­day, En­vi­ron­ment Victoria chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Wake­ham said the gov­ern­ment needed to speed up the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment of AGL’s plan be­fore any pre­lim­i­nary works were al­lowed to oc­cur. “We ur­gently need a full en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects state­ment to en­sure Western Port is not sac­ri­ficed for AGL’s gain,” Mr Wake­ham said.

STUART McEVOY

Save Western Port res­i­dents ac­tion group mem­bers Louise Page and Dale Stohr at Crib Point, Victoria

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