It’s a gas, gas, gas

| April 1, 2021

The state government of Victoria has rejected a plan by AGL to establish a floating LNG (liquid natural gas) import terminal at Crib Point in Westernport.  Planning Minister Wynne said “this is the right outcome for the local community, the environment and Victoria as a whole.”

 The former Premier of Victoria, Henry Bolte, not a renowned environmentalist, is said to have remarked during the 1960’s that if we had tried to ruin Westernport, we could not have done a better job. Of course, that is no justification for more environmental degradation, but it is delusional to pretend that Westernport is pristine. That is tantamount to celebrating the status quo as though agriculture, industry and urban encroachment are environmentally benign.

A vast area of wetland has been drained in the Westernport catchment and converted into very productive farming land. The resulting degradation of Westernport and its catchment is the share of food production costs that the community is willing to impose on the environment. However, the relatively minor impact of a facility to process gas for cooking the food produced at considerable cost to the environment is evidently not acceptable.

Objections to the proposed terminal focused on the potential impacts of chlorine which inhibits nuisance microbial growth and scale etc, on heat exchangers which are used to process the liquified gas. The proponents claim that the concentration of chlorine 400 metres from the plant would be equivalent to a one-thousanth of that used to disinfect drinking water and swimming pools. That claim has evidently not been disputed. Expert Witness Evidence given by Dr Matt Edmunds to the Crib Point Gas Import Jetty Inquiry, Advisory Committee and Panel Hearing pointed out numerous deficiencies in the EES that was prepared by the proponents.

Dr Edmunds also referred to the potential release of toxicants, other than chlorine, from the terminal. In addition to domestic sewage, Melbourne’s major sewage treatment facilities receive large volumes of industrial wastewater containing a wide variety of pollutants which result from the insatiable demands of urban life.

Much of the effluent from these facilities is released to the marine environment. Such effluent is rich in nutrients and also contains traces of toxicants and bio-active substances similar to those expected to be present in the LNG terminal heat exchanger effluent.

The measurable impact of Melbourne’s treated sewage discharges is limited to a few hundred meters around the outfalls. For some reason, however, the environmental impact of treated sewage is acceptable, whereas the probably similar impact from a gas terminal is not.

Fair enough, so long as the people of Melbourne are prepared to pay more for gas in order to compensate for what some say would otherwise be a cost imposed on the environment. But such ‘environmental externalities’ are common, it’s what happens when we don’t factor in the environmental costs for things like energy, water recycling, transport, sport under lights and cheap milk.