THE backer of a controversial 2009 plan for a gas pipeline from Queensland’s Galilee basin gas fields to the Hunter says renewing the approval for another five years, despite no work for a decade, is “insurance” for NSW gas users.
Hunter Gas Pipeline managing director Garbis Simonian rejected overwhelming opposition to the renewal from community and environment groups, and questions from affected councils and government agencies, and strongly criticised Australian governments for failing to commit to a national energy policy in the public interest.
Gas was “the moderate course in the middle between coal and renewables” and the pipeline, estimated to cost $1 billion just for the 700 kilometre section between the Hunter and the NSW-Queensland border north of Moree, is “insurance” for NSW if traditional supplies from Bass Strait continue to deplete, Mr Simonian said.
“It’s a lot easier to extend this approval for five years in case it’s needed because gas supplies from Bass Strait slow up than it is to start again because getting an approval is a slow process,” he said.
Hunter Gas Pipeline applied to the NSW Department of Planning to extend development consent for the project until February 2024 despite the 2009 approval requiring the company to have completed “substantial commencement of construction” by February 11, 2019 when the consent expires.
It’s a lot easier to extend this approval for five years in case it’s needed because gas supplies from Bass Strait slow up than it is to start again because getting an approval is a slow process.- Garbis Simonian
The company argued work had not started because of uncertainties in the gas supply market that included a controversial proposed Narrabri coal seam gas project. An approval extension for a gas pipeline would “provide an opportunity to safeguard a critical infrastructure essential to increase supply to the Australian east coast market, and particularly NSW”, Hunter Gas Pipelines said.
“It will facilitate the gas flow from Northern Australia to the south eastern states,” it said, but noted that Santos had not committed to use the Hunter Gas Pipeline from its proposed Narrabri gas field to Newcastle. An alternative Western Ranges Pipeline from Narrabri has not been approved.
“Hunter Gas Pipeline is committed to start construction with the imminent development of new domestic gas fields in Narrabri, Surat and Galilee Basins in Queensland. An alternative project will not be in the public interest,” the company said in its application to the Department of Planning.
The plan was supported by just one respondent to a public exhibition of the extension proposal, and that was Mr Simonian’s Weston Aluminium at Kurri Kurri which was established in 1996 to process and recycle aluminium by-products.
Weston Aluminium plant services manager Christopher McClung said gas prices had more than doubled, “placing significant cost pressures on businesses such as ours”.
“NSW currently imports the vast majority, about 95 per cent, of its natural gas requirements from other states, particularly South Australia and Victoria. The proposed Queensland to Hunter gas pipeline will ensure the project supplies the domestic NSW market rather than gas being diverted via a short-cut into the Moombato-Sydney pipeline and ultimately the Gladstone LNG plants in Queensland,” Mr McClung told the Department of Planning.
Lock the Gate Alliance flatly rejected extension of the 2009 approval, saying the application “appears to be hastily slapped together and the company has nothing but a website and a couple of media appearances to substantiate its argument the consent should be extended”.
“That Hunter Gas Pipeline could expect to extend its development consent based on the information provided speaks to its unfitness to undertake the environmental management of such an enormous and complex so-called ‘critical infrastructure’,” Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods said.
The proposal appears to be hastily slapped together and the company has nothing but a website and a couple of media appearances to substantiate its argument the consent should be extended.- Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods
“There is no explanation provided as to why, in the years since approval was granted, while the price of gas on the east coast has surged and supply tightened, the company has not made any move to secure finance or customers for its pipeline, has done no survey work to identify the route the pipeline will take, nor done any of the extensive additional environmental and other work required to commence construction,” Ms Woods told the Department of Planning.
Objector Richard Grant of Paterson said approval of the project in 2009 was “a failure of good governance” and extending the approval in 2019 “now knowing what we do about climate change and the battles for survival we will soon face, is an absolute disgrace”.
Objector Stuart Murray of Narrabri said the Narrabri gas project was “the most protested project ever and if democracy still exists then it, and any proposed pipelines, should not be approved”.
Upper Hunter Shire Council told the Department of Planning the approved 2009 route of the gas pipeline overlapped and intersected a proposed water pipeline from Scone to Murrurundi at a number of locations.
Mr Simonian said he expected to lodge his company’s response to objections with the Department of Planning in the next several weeks.
“We’ll put our case and ultimately the department will make a decision,” he said.
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