The announcement of the imminent construction of the Port Bonython Fuels project, a $110 million diesel storage and distribution hub on the Point Lowly peninsula, caught environmentalists and Whyalla locals by surprise yesterday. Adelaide-based documentary filmmaker and conservationist Dan Monceaux believes that the development approval decision which was made in 2009 was premature, and was granted based on inadequate information. He also believes that a more suitable location is available nearby, 20 kilometres closer to the Lincoln Highway, which could mitigate many of the project’s adverse social, economic and environmental impacts.
“Yesterday’s announcement seriously understates the scale of the project and ignores its impacts,” says Monceaux.
“The full development plan at the time of approval was for a multi-stage development including a tank farm and diesel distillation facility. It was designed to be capable of delivering a billion litres of fuel per year, stored in multiple tanks up to 21 metres high and 60 metres in diameter. The official forecast is for up to 50 tanker trucks per day once fully established and they’ll all be sharing the single access road to Point Lowly with full-time residents, shack owners, fishermen, ecotourists and Grey Nomads.”
“I can see why the proponents and the State Government chose to keep locals, including the Whyalla City Council in the dark on this project’s details. The traffic burden alone will be a huge turnoff to visitors, let alone the visual, light, sound and odour pollution. The net result is bound to damage to the location’s reputation as peaceful escape; a place renown for its spectacular views of the Flinders Ranges, visiting whales and dolphins and the world’s only Giant Australian Cuttlefish mass breeding aggregation.”
Approved by the State’s Development Assessment Commission in 2009, the project was not required to publish an Environmental Impact Statement nor a Public Environment Report, contrary to Minister Koutsantonis’ comments. He told ABC local radio 891 yesterday that an EIS had been completed, where no such document exists. Meanwhile, other industrial development proposals promising to increase shipping activity in Spencer Gulf were required to secure Federal environmental approval, while the Port Bonython Fuels project was not.
Dan Monceaux’s foremost environmental concerns relate to the possible impacts upon coastal and marine life in the event of an oil spill during unloading. His fears are not hypothetical either, as the Port Bonython wharf was the site of the state’s worst recorded oil spill at sea in 1992. That spill resulted in nearly 300 tonnes of heavy fuel oil entering the sea after the tanker Era’s hull was pieced by a tugboat. The oil spill response involved heavy use of the toxic chemical dispersant Corexit to sink the slick, with the remaining surface oil washing into mangroves to the west and south of Port Pirie, enraging the local fishing industry. He is concerned that the approved Development Application makes no reference to any oil spill trajectory studies, response plans or obligations in light of an accident at sea.
“Official investigation and news reports of the Port Bonython spill in 1992 suggest that adjacent industry was poorly equipped to respond. Hundreds of seabirds were oiled and killed, toxic dispersants were deployed from the air and water and subsequently, abnormalities were detected in crabs and snapper caught by local fishermen.”
Monceaux considers the project’s economic cost in terms of lost opportunities- the deterring of travellers and visitors and the hobbling of the development of Stony and Black Point areas for low impact marine eco-tourism. The star attraction is the Giant Australian Cuttlefish aggregation, whose numbers have rebounded slightly for the first time after being pushed to the brink of local extinction.
“If the approach to Point Lowly becomes a descent through a gauntlet of road-train fuel tankers and a valley of hydrocarbon refining and storage facilities, what signal does that send to residents, holiday-makers and the burgeoning ecotourism industry? And what mockery does it make of the recovery of the Giant Australian Cuttlefish aggregation- a unique natural wonder with international appeal?”
If the development proceeds at the chosen location, it will become the first heavy industrial development on the Point Lowly peninsula since the establishment of Santos’ Stony Point gas fractionation plant in the early 1980s. The track record of that facility was blighted in recent years following discovery of contaminated groundwater beneath the tank farm, which is sited on the coast.
Despite the hydrocarbon industry’s record for spills and leaks, Monceaux understands the need for such a facility if the state intends to better serve its regional primary industries. What he can’t accept is why rational calls for the facility to be relocated away from Point Lowly have been ignored. Relocation closer to the Lincoln Highway could potentially improve the efficiency of access for trucks, but would require the construction of a new 20 kilometre long hydrocarbons pipeline connecting the site with Port Bonython.
Perhaps the Port Bonython Fuels project’s new owners, Mitsubishi Corporation, will seize this opportunity to honour their own environmental policies and save Point Lowly and the peninsula’s natural heritage from any unnecessary sacrifices?