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As Australia pledges to reduce methane emissions, Viva Energy pushes forward with Geelong gas termin

“I knew that I could make a change, and I wanted to get involved.”

Lauren Dillon, an 18-year-old student sustainability leader at Clonard College in Geelong, has been protesting against Viva Energy’s planned floating LNG import and regasification terminal since she learned about the proposal.

“We have this huge responsibility to take care of the world … I wanted to make it clear to everybody that now’s not the time to be accepting these gas terminals,” Dillon said.

“You realise that you have to take up the responsibility when the adults possibly don’t see the need to. I think a lot of young people are taking it very seriously.”

Viva’s gas plans

Viva Energy announced its ambitions for the project in 2020, saying it aimed to transform Geelong into an “energy hub”, building the floating terminal next to its oil refinery on the Corio Bay shoreline.

Viva says the project will act as a “quick fix” to what it and others say will be a “gas shortfall” in the south-eastern Australian market this decade, with operations set to begin in 2024.

As Australia pledges to reduce methane emissions, Viva Energy pushes forward with Geelong gas terminal

Artist’s impression of the terminal. Source:

However Adjunct Professor Jim Snow from the University of Queensland, in his presentation to the project’s Inquiry and Advisory Committee (IAC), said AEMO’s 2021 projections of a gas shortfall “are no longer applicable” with “the deferment of the forecast shortfalls out to 2030 and as late as 2033”.

Freja Leonard, Friends of the Earth Melbourne’s No More Gas campaign co-ordinator, said there was no lack of gas.

“We don’t have a gas production shortfall. We have a gas export problem. If we’re looking at this as a global issue, gas has become increasingly politicised … it’s made it an unpalatable product.”

The Geelong community is now waiting on the IAC’s report. The proposal centres around a 300m floating storage regasification unit which converts liquefied natural gas (LNG) from more than 40 tankers per year into its gas form, methane, and feeding into the main gas grid 7km away at Lara via a pipeline that runs close to Bay Trail cycling path and Shell Rd.

The proposal received more than 2000 community submissions after Viva released its environmental effects statement.

Darcy Dunn, spokesperson for Geelong Renewables Not Gas (GRNG), said the large majority of those submissions disapproved of the plan. 

As Australia pledges to reduce methane emissions, Viva Energy pushes forward with Geelong gas terminal

Artist’s impression of the terminal. Source:

Residents are particularly concerned about safety. A 2004 US risk analysis of large LNG shipping spills identified a “hazard zone” within 3.5km of an LNG spill over water, whether caused by a collision or intentional damage. About 30,000 Geelong residents live within 3.5km of the proposed shipping lanes. 

Viva claims the report and its findings are “respected”, but are not applicable to its own proposed floating terminal, rejecting the scenarios presented by ACF as “extremely unlikely” and the predicted consequences as “not credible”.

Climate and community groups “managed to get 4000 signatures” on a petition, said Dunn. “And on top of that, we’ve held all kinds of events. We held a rally that went through the centre of Geelong that had around 400 people attending.”

Potential for collisions

GeelongPort’s submission to the IAC, opposed the proposal, citing safety concerns of an “inadequate separation distance”. However, just days later, GeelongPort reversed its position after it and Viva reached an agreement.

Dunn said it was “a pretty shocking turn of events”.

We all felt pretty betrayed.

North Shore is only 220m from the tanker path. The North Shore Residents Group’s submission to the IAC emphasises the risk of collisions, with impacts of the scale of an intentional attack. 

The submission notes that Viva excludes “all intentional damage scenarios from their QRA”, defining their “accidental release scenario to be of only minimal LNG release”. The North Shore submission also notes that the channels are “narrow and shallow” and do not meet “minimum dimension recommendations”.

From oil to fertiliser to cadmium-contaminated mussels, Corio Bay has seen its fair share of pollution. 

In 2003, Shell was fined after its oil refinery spilled into Corio Bay on more than 60 separate occasions in that year alone. 

As Australia pledges to reduce methane emissions, Viva Energy pushes forward with Geelong gas terminal

A map of an LNG tanker’s expected path through Corio Bay, 30,000 residents live within these three Sandia Laboratory Hazard Zones. Image: Renewables Not Gas Geelong (GRNG)

Shell Australia sold the refinery in August 2014. Within weeks, the refinery’s new operators, Viva Energy, spilled nearly 10,000 litres of ammonia derivative into Corio Bay. Viva told the EPA “several days” after, and later became subject to a criminal probe.

Concern about impact

Viva’s hearings at the proposal’s IAC have not convinced community groups that Viva understands the possible impacts or that it has taken the appropriate measures.

“Throughout that process, the inquiry panel found pretty significant deficiencies.” Dunn said Viva has “underestimated” certain risks, more often only presenting “the best case”.

In its environmental effects statement, Viva said the Corio Bay project would have the “potential” to affect the surrounding marine environment, including internationally recognised wetlands about 1km away.

Freja Leonard said the dredging of the sea floor required to build the terminal and infrastructure would damage the sea life and coral, and increase water turbidity.

“If something goes wrong with that gas terminal – that’s 250m away from households, we’ve seen that gas facilities explode before, whether by espionage or by accident – it’s going to be a disaster on an unmitigated scale.”

Dunn said,

If it burns, it burns incredibly intensely such that you would be seriously injured or killed at a huge distance from the actual fire itself.

In an editorial in Nature in August 2021, the IPCC said methane was a potent greenhouse gas, more than 80 times more potent than CO2, and had already caused more than one-third of global heating –0.5°C – compared to CO2’s 0.8°C. It said that acting now to reduce methane emissions would bring faster reductions than by controlling CO2 alone, as methane is a much shorter-acting greenhouse gas. 

Advancements in satellite technology have brought us a much more granular understanding of methane leakage, and it looks likely that Australian industry methane estimates are far too low.

Given this context, and the likelihood that Australia will sign the international methane pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, beginning a major new 20-year gas infrastructure project could be seen as very problematic.

Another critical question is alternatives. If any shortfall could be rectified by accelerating demand reduction and fuel switching, why not do this rather than proceed with an environmentally damaging project?

Leonard said, “Increasingly, consumers are calling for low climate impact products.” Gas has become “an unmarketable product”.

Scale of the project’s emissions

Viva was accused of misrepresenting key emissions figures when it said the project would only emit 48,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, nearly 10 times less than AGL’s plan for a similar LNG import project at Crib Point.

Matthew Sullivan-Kilgour from Ironbark Sustainability, an expert witness on the greenhouse gas impacts, said that Viva excluded 72 per cent to 89 per cent of project emissions as Scope 3. The US Environmental Protection Agency describes Scope 3 emissions as “the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organisation, but that the organisation indirectly impacts in its value chain”.

As Australia pledges to reduce methane emissions, Viva Energy pushes forward with Geelong gas terminal

Methane emissions from gas production are substantial. Picture by Pixabay

If Scope 3 emissions were to be included, the project would be the second-biggest greenhouse gas emitter in Victoria, he said.

Dunn said the IAC is unlikely to make a specific recommendation. Ultimately, it’s “the minister who gets to make the call as to whether or not the project goes ahead from an approvals perspective”.

Mik Aidt, a local journalist who co-hosts the radio show The Sustainable Hour, said he had not heard “anything that convinced me why we should have a gas terminal in Geelong”. Aidt said he felt the committee might approve the proposal, despite strong opposition.

“They have done that before. The same people who were in this committee have been in other committees where they have approved other gas projects elsewhere,” he said.

When asked about the future of the project, Dillon said moving away from fossil fuels is “inevitable”. “We don’t really leave a future for our young generations. Intergenerational equity is so important when we think about this terminal,” he said.

Dillon said,

I’ve put 12 months of my life into this, and a lot of other people have dedicated so much time … if it does go ahead, I think that there will be community uproar, especially from the young people.

What would happen if the project was to go ahead? “We’ll continue fighting,” she said.

The Victorian Minister for Planning, MP Lizzie Blandthorn, Viva Energy, GeelongPort and The City of Greater Geelong were contacted for comment. They did not reply by the time of publication.


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