Port backflip a boost for Viva’s Victorian gas terminal

Fuel giant Viva Energy’s proposal to build Victoria’s first gas-import terminal in Corio Bay has received a boost after the Geelong port authority reserved its opposition to the project,despite ongoing resistance from climate change campaigners and community groups.

GeelongPort,which had previously joined local opponents in arguing against the new terminal as it undergoes public environmental hearings,has withdrawn its submission after striking a deal with Viva Energy to upgrade infrastructure to support the project.

An LNG carrier moored at the Woodside-operated gas plant in Western Australia. The Australian oil and gas major inked a deal last year to supply gas from WA to Victoria,if Viva’s terminal proceeds.

An LNG carrier moored at the Woodside-operated gas plant in Western Australia. The Australian oil and gas major inked a deal last year to supply gas from WA to Victoria,if Viva’s terminal proceeds.Krystle Wright

ASX-listedViva Energy says importing shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) at the site of its Geelong oil refinery could be an important lifeline for Victoria’s two million gas-reliant homes and businesses facing the threat of rising prices or even shortfalls.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) last weekrenewed warnings that the state’s gas supplies are running dangerously low and activated a mechanism forcing Queensland producers to move gas south rather than exporting it overseas.

However,Viva Energy’s project is being fought byenvironmentalists and some community members, who argue it is too close to residential areas and schools,and fear it will set back Australia’s climate ambitions by entrenching the use of planet-heating fossil fuels.

The local port authority’s previous submission said the project had not been adequately assessed for its environmental effects and could have “unacceptable impacts on GeelongPort and the Port of Geelong”.

Viva Energy said GeelongPort had now agreed to extend its refining pier for a floating gas storage facility that would receive LNG from incoming ships,before licensing the pier to the fuel company.

The owner of the nation’s Shell and Liberty petrol stations would also construct infrastructure to connect the gas to Victoria’s network,such as a gas pipeline and treatment facility.

Environment Victoria chief executive Jono La Nauze said the organisation was disappointed by GeelongPort’s backflip,but remained opposed to the Viva Energy’s Geelong gas-import proposal.

“GeelongPort has been vocal about their safety concerns regarding this project,it is extremely disappointing for the community to see GeelongPort taking back the issues they raised after securing a new source of revenue,” La Nauze said.

Viva Energy chief executive Scott Wyatt said he looked forward to continuing the company’s “long-standing” relationship with GeelongPort.

Viva Energy chief executive Scott Wyatt said he looked forward to continuing the company’s “long-standing” relationship with GeelongPort.Penny Stephens

A GeelongPort spokesperson confirmed the authority had agreed terms for Viva Energy to access a new berth at its refinery pier for the fuel company’s gas terminal,although construction would be subject to planning minister approval after environmental impacts were considered.

Woodside chief executiveMeg O’Neill last week said a “quick fix” to surges in gas demand during the winter months was to develop gas import capacity,as local supply takes time to develop. The Australian oil and gas producer signed a deal last year to supply LNG from Western Australia to Victoria if Viva Energy’s import terminal proceeds.

The Victorian government last yearrejected AGL’s proposed development of an import facility at Crib Point in Western Port due to environmental concerns.

While Australia is one of the world’s top gas exporters,large amounts are locked in contracts with overseas buyers,or are in faraway parts of the country where it is either too expensive or impossible to supply demand centres in the south. Victoria’s offshore gas fields in the Bass Strait,which have traditionally supplied up to half of the eastern seaboard’s gas demand,have been now in rapid decline.

Victorian Energy MinisterLily D’Ambrosio last week called for the AEMO to have stronger powers to allow it to set guaranteed minimum gas storage levels at key national storage facilities and said it was unacceptable that Australian consumers faced high prices given the country’s plentiful gas reserves.

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Lachlan Abbott is a reporter at The Age.

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