Safety concerns arise over Port Bonython iron ore export plan

A major oversight may have been made in the preparation of the Port Bonython Common User Export Facility Environmental Impact Statement, which is scheduled for an environmental approval decision by December 31 this year.

While researching the history of the Point Lowly peninsula in South Australia’s upper Spencer Gulf region, documentary filmmaker Dan Monceaux discovered new information supporting the need for closer consideration of cumulative risk. According to the assessment report for the existing hydrocarbons refinery operated by Santos, the proposed wharf is within the blast zone in the event of an LPG explosion at the existing wharf.

This new information was discovered in a document published by the South Australia Government Department of Environment and Planning in 1981. Danger zones for a variety of possible incidents are illustrated, including hydrocarbon spills, a ship-based explosion at the wharf, and leaking of flammable gases from the refinery site and from a ship. After its publication, the document served to justify the removal of a number of shacks along Weeroona Bay to create a safety buffer zone prior to the construction of Santos’ facility.

“If public safety concerns were sufficient to warrant the removal of residents’ shacks from the Weerona Bay area in the 1980s, how is it appropriate to approve a new wharf which extends through and terminates within a possible blast zone today?” asks Monceaux.

Dan Monceaux was shocked at the discovery and believes that the cumulative impact of adjacent industrial facilities has not been duly considered in the current iron ore export wharf’s EIS. In addition to the proposed wharf’s exposure to flammable vapour clouds and explosions, flammable vapour could also reach shacks and residences at Point Lowly and the peninsula’s iconic heritage lighthouse, constructed in 1883.

 

Map of Port Bonython blast and flammable vapour limits

Map of Port Bonython blast and flammable vapour limits

 

Port Bonython Fuels, a diesel distribution hub project currently under construction is also at risk. Its tank farm has been approved to be constructed just 200 m from the flammable vapour cloud limit in the event of a gas leak at Port Bonython’s existing refinery. A new pipeline linking the existing jetty with the fuel hub creates yet another new potential hazard, also unaddressed in cumulative impact assessments for Port Bonython.

“The worst case scenario, albeit unlikely, could lead to loss of human life and significant property and infrastructure damage. We believe that this information should be reviewed immediately by the Department of Planning and project proponent Flinders Ports. The public deserves to have these risks addressed.”

Monceaux poses that an increase in shipping traffic and vessel size in the constrained channel approaching Port Bonython also increases risk. Having studied the development plans for Spencer Gulf closely since 2011, Monceaux ultimately questions the choice of the location.

“This is one of several proposals for new iron ore export ports in the Spencer Gulf region. In this case, the cumulative impacts arising here are all consequences of the choice of location, near Point Lowly. The best way to mitigate them would be to relocate the proposed iron ore wharf south, to Nonowie Station.”

The Nonowie alternative site has been advocated for by the Whyalla-based Alternative Ports Working Party since 2009. In February that year, the Whyalla City Council also voted unanimously against the port being located near Point Lowly. Nonowie is located 30 km south of Whyalla and if developed, would retain the economic benefits for Whyalla residents.

Furthermore, the Nonowie site is closer to the mouth of Spencer Gulf and bypasses tidal impediments which occur on the approach to Port Bonython. This reduces maritime safety risk and would also increase port operating efficiency. The APWP maintain that deep water could be accessed with a wharf of comparable length.

“Moving the proposal south has always made sense- this new information, and the opportunities for loss of human life and damage to existing and new infrastructure just makes the case even stronger.”

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Dan Monceaux is a South Australian documentary filmmaker and the director of Cuttlefish Country.

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