Explosive risks at Port Bonython discovered in 'lost' government document
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
According to documentary filmmaker Dan Monceaux, historic blast zone studies were ignored in the preparation of the Port Bonython Common User Export Facility's Environmental Impact Statement. An environmental approval decision regarding the new port is expected by June 30 this year.
While researching the history of Port Bonython in South Australia's upper Spencer Gulf region, Monceaux discovered that a 1981 Assessment Report for the existing hydrocarbons refinery (operated by Santos) had been withdrawn from the State Records by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet without explanation.
After pushing for months for the document's release, Monceaux discovered that critical information regarding industrial safety within the document had been obstructed from view. It revealed that the proposed wharf was intended to be constructed within the blast zone in the event of an LPG explosion at the existing Port Bonython wharf.
The Assessment Report was published by the South Australia Government Department of Environment and Planning in 1981, and contained diagrams depicting danger zones for a variety of incidents. Hydrocarbon spills, a ship-based explosion at the wharf, and leaking of flammable gases from the refinery site and from a ship were included. After its publication, the document was used to justify the removal of a number of coastal shacks along Weeroona Bay to create a safety buffer zone prior to the construction of Santos' facility.
“If public safety concerns resulted in 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 34 years later?” asks Monceaux.
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.
Workers at Port Bonython Fuels, a diesel distribution hub currently under construction may also be at risk. Its tank farm is being assembled just 200 m from the flammable vapour cloud limit in the event of a gas leak at Santos' Port Bonython refinery. A new pipeline linking the existing jetty with the new fuel hub creates yet another new potential hazard, also unaddressed in cumulative impact assessments for the proposed wharf. Holiday makers and residents at Point Lowly are also at risk of permanent injury in the event of a ship-based LPG explosion.
“The worst case scenario 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 also has a right to know why this information was withdrawn from public circulation for several years, during the planning of this facility.”
Monceaux poses that an increase in shipping traffic and vessel size in the constrained channel approaching Port Bonython also increases risk. He questions the choice of the location:
“This is one of several proposals for new iron ore export ports on Spencer Gulf. 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 or even further.”
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 potential for loss of human life and damage to existing and new infrastructure just makes the case even stronger.”
Map supplied is a composite of 1981 report hazards and current project proposal diagrams.
For further comment, contact Dan Monceaux