Gas plant go-ahead

PLANS for Esso-BHP Billiton’s proposed gas conditioning plant were approved by the EPA this week, with the companies receiving the go-ahead to begin construction on the $1 billion project.

Plans for the plant have been in place for some time, being linked to the companies’ existing $4.4 billion Bass Strait operations project, with the facility to be built alongside Esso’s existing Longford gas and oil plant.

The conditioning plant has been designed to treat gas flowing from Esso’s three new gas fields in Bass Strait, Kipper, Tuna and Turrum.

Unlike the gas traditionally processed at Longford, gas in those fields has higher levels of carbon dioxide.

Over the past two years engineers have been trying to develop a way of reducing the high amounts of mercury contained in the fields.

The now approved conditioning plant will assist in the pre-treatment of this raw product making it commercially viable.

The works approval permit the Environmental Protection Agency have granted Esso allows the installation of an additional gas conditioning plant at Garrets Rd, Longford for the removal of carbon dioxide and mercury from gas produced offshore.

The EPA said the approval was issued with conditions relating to the improving performance of the best practice thermal oxidizer, which should increase the percentage of pollutants destroyed.

However Coal Seam Gas Wellington Awareness Group’s Jo McCubbin said the conditions appeared to be “incredibly weak”.

Dr McCubbin said Wellington residents would be surprised to hear of the EPA’s approval.

“Esso must not allow too much benzene to escape and they have to build the facility quietly, but that’s about it,” she said.

Dr McCubbin said, in stripping the mercury and CO2 for its gas Esso would emit one million tonnes of CO2 per year, lifting Victoria’s greenhouse emissions by about one per cent.

If the plant should malfunction, Dr McCubbin said, Esso has been advised to use gas from fields with lower CO2 contents.

“If this is possible, why are they building the plant in the first place?” she said.

“Surely if they have better quality gas they should use that instead.”

Representatives from Esso said the new plant would provide the energy to power economic growth while meeting a commitment to a clearer energy future, boasting natural gas’ potential to reduce over all emissions compared to the use of coal in power generation.

“Natural gas emits up to 60 per cent less CO2 than coal when used for electricity generation,” the spokesperson said.

She added that the project would see about 250 direct construction jobs and additional indirect employment opportunities come to the Wellington region.

Gippsland MHR Darren Chester also applauded the job opportunities the plant’s construction would bring to the region.

A council spokesperson said public notices seeking submissions were advertised in January, with the submission period closing February 25.

In total, it said, council received five submissions relating to environmental and safety matters which were outside the scope of the relevant planning controls.

A council spokesperson said the application complied with all relevant planning controls.

“Therefore a notice of decision to grant the planing permit was issued on Friday, April 19, with a condition that works not commence until the EPA granted works approval under the Environment Protection Act which is the appropriate mechanism for environmental matters.”

Objectors to the proposal have 21 days to lodge an appeal at Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Construction of the plant is expected to begin in the second half of 2013, with the facility expected to be operational in 2016.

For more read Friday’s Gippsland Times.