There’s safety and safety, depending on where you live

Residents from the Geelong suburbs adjacent to where Viva Energy proposes a floating gas terminal in Corio Bay have every reason to be disillusioned at how the company has so far answered their questions about safety.

At a recent public consultation meeting the company did little to allay the concerns of questioners, responding with a mix of motherhood statements about risk management, vague references to global best practice and Power Point slides saying how important safety is.

If that is the case why then in one interstate jurisdiction are the nearest houses and urban areas 7 kilometres away from where similar hazardous infrastructure is located, not the metres displayed on an aerial photograph of the proposed Corio Bay terminal.  In another interstate jurisdiction it is 6 kilometres away from a residential area.  

And elsewhere it is recommended to position hazardous facilities in remote locations far from residential areas and public places to mitigate against the impact of an incident or catastrophic event, of which, around the globe, we are not short of examples.

Viva did not seem to have an answer to several questions about the safe distances that should be observed between the terminal, the on-shore refinery infrastructure and the adjacent residential zone.

This approach to safety is in dramatic contrast the Viva’s safety concerns, expressed a day later in the media, when local authorities in suburban Melbourne gave approval for a 122-place creche to be built close to Viva’s crude oil pipeline which runs from Hastings to its Altona and Geelong refineries.  

Viva argued before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that the location of the creche site was dangerous.

If Viva seemed ill-prepared for the detail of the questions and the knowledge of those asking them in Geelong, perhaps its only preparation before the meeting was to think it could wipe away community concerns with a glib presentation. 

Too often the answer to a question was, in effect, “we are yet to address that in our planning.”

Currently there are no other gas import terminals in Australia, so we need to be confident that our politicians and Viva are taking these risks seriously as we are in unchartered waters, if you will pardon the pun.