Plans to construct a new gas import terminal on the Victorian coast have encountered an unexpected source of opposition, with the state’s Liberal National Party announcing it would not support the development of the Crib Point gas terminal.
The controversial Crib Point gas terminal is being proposed by AGL Energy, as part of a plan to bring up to 160 petajoules of natural gas each year into the Victorian gas market. The import terminal, which would be constructed on the Victorian south coast, would allow LNG to be transported directly to Victoria to be reprocessed into mains gas.
Community consultation on the terminal has received stiff opposition from local community groups and environmental organisations, with more than 6,000 submissions received mostly against the project.
Victorian shadow minister for energy and resources, Ryan Smith, announced that at a media conference on Monday morning at Point Crib, that the opposition party would halt the development of the gas terminal if it were in government.
While the announcement has been welcomed by environmental groups, the decision to oppose the gas terminal by the state Liberal National Party is not entirely the result of a newfound environmental focus, but rather motivated by a preference to see more gas extraction happen within Victoria, itself, rather than gas being imported from other states.
“Labor’s moratorium on gas exploration and development has left Victoria short of supply. This has resulted in rising gas prices, further burdening household budgets,” Smith said.
“Labor’s panicked response is to support a project which completely ignores the concerns of the local community and indigenous group, and seems to overlook its environmental impacts.”
In a statement, the Victorian Liberal Nationals said they opposed the project due to the high level of local community opposition to the development, including from the recognised aboriginal traditional owners of the area where it would be located, the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation.
It places the party at odds with its federal colleagues, who have been pushing for more investment in new gas infrastructure, as part of the Morrison government’s ‘gas-led recovery’.
The Victorian opposition party also questioned the number of new jobs expected to be created by the project.
“While AGL and the Andrews government claimed the project would create local jobs, it was revealed that any jobs created would require specific skills and likely be filled from within AGL’s existing workforce,” Smith said in a statement.
In a statement, a spokesperson for AGL Energy said the company would continue to engage with the planning inquiry underway into the Crib Point project, and that the company still considered the project as a key part of the solution to a predicted supply gap in the south-eastern states.
“The proposed project is well located to deliver gas into markets in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, which represent the households and businesses at most at risk of supply shortfalls,” the AGL spokesperson said.
“The potential impacts of the proposed gas import project are currently being independently assessed by an Inquiry and Advisory Committee (IAC) as part of the government’s Environment Effects Statement (ESS) process. A key focus of the EES was to assess the potential impacts of the project on marine and terrestrial biodiversity and the ecological character of the Western Port Ramsar site.”
“We are committed to following the process the State Government deems appropriate and will work with government and the community to facilitate access to information and ongoing engagement. If the proposed project is approved, a final investment decision will then be made by AGL which will take into account the community’s views and the projected shortage of gas for cooking, heating and business.”
The announcement from the Victorian Liberal Nationals was welcomed by Environment Victoria, which said attention now falls on the Victorian Labor government and the federal government to reject the gas terminal when decisions on approvals were made in the near future.
“This announcement shows the state Opposition is in touch with the concerns of the local Westernport Bay community, which is unanimous in their opposition to this project,” Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze said.
“The Victorian Liberal Nationals have now joined a chorus of diverse groups against AGL’s project including three local councils, fishing businesses, the tourism industry, conservation groups, the Traditional Owners and local federal MP Greg Hunt.”
“We expect Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne to listen to these concerns and reject this project when he makes his decision in coming weeks. We also call on the Victorian Liberal Nationals to relay these community concerns to Federal Minister for Environment Sussan Ley, who is another key decision maker for approvals,” La Nauze added.
Groups have been concerned about the potential environmental impacts of the terminal, including on internationally recognised wetlands, with the Environment Effects Statement detailing that the project would require the drawing in of seawater from the surrounding bay and that contaminants, including chlorine, would be present in the seawater when it was later discharged by the gas project.
The gas import terminal is currently being considered by an Inquiry and Advisory Committee, which is expected to deliver its recommendations on the project before the end of February.
State planning minister, Richard Wynne, will then have 30 days to make a decision on the project.