How to write a submission opposing AGL’s gas import terminal

Australia’s largest climate polluter AGL is trying to push ahead its proposed gas import terminal for Westernport Bay. To do that AGL needs environmental approvals.  

The Environment Effects Statement (EES) process is designed to assess the environmental and social impact of the proposal. As part of the EES process the public can submit their feedback on AGL’s EES documentation. 

There are over 11,000 pages of technical documents to review – an impossible job for anyone to do alone. This guide is intended to make it easier to understand the impacts of AGL’s proposal, and to make a submission. 

How to make a submission

Once you have written your submission (see below for help on how to write it), you’re ready to send it in.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is running the consultation process. Head to their website using the link below to make your submission online:

On that page you will:

  1. Tick four boxes acknowledging that you understand your submission will be made publicly available, and that you have permission to publish your submission
  2. Type your name, address, email and phone number
  3. Indicate if you are making your submission on behalf of an organisation
  4. Type your submission (if less than 500 words) or upload your submission as a .doc or .pdf document
  5. Indicate if you wish to speak to your submission during the Public Hearing phase in October. Note that this will be via video conferencing online. We highly recommend you do, and we will support people to prepare for this step
  6. If you wish to call on expert witness – the answer is most likely ‘no’

Submissions are accepted up to and including August 26th. 

If you have issues making an online submission, call Planning Panels Victoria at 136 186.

What makes a good submission?

Every submission can have impact, no matter how simple. The most important thing you can do is make a submission, in whatever shape you are able!

But here are some tips to help you make a great submission, without being an expert:

  • Write a unique submission. The review panel will look closely at unique submissions. This is helpful, because we each have a unique, personal story to tell about why we care. You do not need to be an expert – you just need to tell your own story.
  • Focus on one (or maybe two) key points. The EES documents cover a broad range of topics, and no one person can possibly critique all aspects. It’ll be easier and clearer if you pick one thing that you really care about – perhaps the impact of ships on whales in the Bay, or how giant, noisy ships will affect the local community, or how gas is driving the climate crisis. Pick one thing and write about how AGL’s proposal will impact what you care about.
  • Ask questions! AGL have paid millions of dollars to the best experts they could find to write these documents. You do not need to know if what they say is right, but simply asking questions about the project may be enough to highlight gaps in the assessments. AGL may then need to spend extra time and money trying to fill these gaps.
  • Have someone check your submission. Ask a friend or a family member to read what you have written – is it clear to them what point you are making?

Lastly, you may like to include one or more of the points below about why AGL’s proposal is a bad idea.

Some reasons why AGL’s proposal does not stack up

the climate crisis

1. We cannot afford new fossil fuel projects in Victoria 

For millions of Australians climate change is not a distant future threat but a dangerous reality right now. In the last decade we have suffered what might be the worst drought in Australia’s historyravaging our farmers and pushing the Murray-Darling river system to its limit. 

This drought – exacerbated by climate change – also created the dry conditions that fueled the devastating bushfires last summer. Lives were lost, rural communities destroyed, and pristine areas of bush were lost meaning three billion wild animals were killed or displaced. 

All this has happened after an average global increase of only 1.1 degree Celsius. Without curbing our emission from fossil fuels, we are on track for several degrees C of warming by the end of the century. Everything we have lost this summer cannot be in vain – we need to stop building polluting fossil fuel projects that are driving the climate crisis and threatening our environment. 

With the plummeting costs of renewables and energy storage, fossil fuel projects are not only a threat to our environment bualso bad business. Instead of investing in soon-to-be stranded assets, corporations like AGL should be investing more in renewables and supporting consumers to move away from gas. 

AGL’s proposal to build a gas import terminal is not consistent with what we need to do to create a safe climate. 

gas usage, markets and renewables

2. AGL’s rationale for the project ignores what we can and need to do to reduce our gas usage in Victoria

One of AGL’s key arguments for the need to develop a gas import terminal is the lack of success in gas exploration in south-eastern Australia. This frames the issue solely as a problem with the supply of gas to meet our demand as it stands.

But AGL’s report grossly underestimates the potential for reducing our demand for gas in Victoria (balancing gas demand and supply with demand-side measures). According to a recent report written by energy consultants Northmore Gordon (commissioned by Environment Victoria), the state of Victoria could reduce its gas consumption by between 98 and 113 petajoules by 2030 using existing technology and targeted economic support.1

This means that with the right government policies, Victoria could meet its energy needs without new gas, meaning that we do not need new gas fields, nor gas import terminals like the proposal for Westernport Bay.

And on top of that, if we support energy efficiency improvements in homes and businesses, and switch appliances from using gas to electricity, we will lower energy costs for consumers and reduce emissions under most scenarios.2 This is true even when much of our electricity is generated by fossil fuels, but will get even better as more of our electricity is generated through renewables.3

3. AGL’s gas through this terminal would not be cheap

High gas prices are a result of market design, and a gas import terminal would further entrench what is already wrong with the market.

The main driver behind the recent year’s increases in Australian gas prices has not been an undersupply of gas but by the fact that we export most of our LNG. By doing so, we link our gas market with international markets and historically higher international prices.

Prior to 2015, Australia’s eastern seaboard gas market saw gas prices at around $5 per gigajoule (GJ). As soon as Australia started exporting LNG from Queensland, domestic gas prices increased to as much as $20/GJ.

As AGL points out current prices have fallen back to $8-$12/GJ on the east coast (still a doubling of pre-export prices), though prices are $5-$6/GJ in Western Australia where there is a domestic gas reservation policy – essentially that a proportion of gas produced there must be reserved for use there.

Several energy market analysts such as Macquarie Wealth Management have repeatedly maintained that: “Any LNG import terminal will not lower prices in the southern states.” This is because any imported gas will have to be purchased in the international market at international prices. There are also additional costs of liquefying, shipping, port infrastructure and the gas terminal ship (or Floating Storage and Regasification Unit, FSRU) itself.

Further, AGL expects the reader to be concerned about the inability of industrial gas users to survive with gas prices that are two to three times higher than historical prices while at the same time promising to import gas at around $10-11/GJ. AGL gas would also be in the same range of two to three times higher than historical gas prices, making no difference for industrial gas users that developed business models reliant on abundant and cheap gas.

4. The energy transition is making gas obsolete

The electricity generation sector will play a key role in the transition away from fossil fuels. According to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and CSIRO renewables have become the cheapest alternative for new power production.4 This holds true even when accounting for the storage requirements to ensure renewable energy from solar and wind can be stored for up to six hours to guarantee the energy is available at the time it is needed.

The reduction in the cost of wind, solar and batteries has radically changed the electricity markets. In the United States there are plans in Arizona, Colorado, Florida and New Mexico to replace coal fired power stations without adding any new gas power stations.5 This shows that any claims about the role gas will play in the energy transition are based on outdated assumptions.

The fact that renewables will displace gas is becoming increasingly accepted in the energy markets. In fact, this year AEMO adjusted its Victorian gas-powered generation annual consumption forecast for the 2014-2039 period, assuming that gas consumption will be dramatically below what was previously thought. This is because of a higher penetration of renewables than previously forecasted.6

Forecast of gas consumption for gas-powered electricity generation (Source: AEMO)

Further, AEMO’s recently published “2020 Integrated System Plan (ISP)”, the country’s most sophisticated modelling effort to analyse the cheapest way to develop our national electricity market confirms this trend.7 The ISP assumes that as coal power stations retire, they will be replaced with renewables because the cost of wind and solar technology are the cheapest and obvious replacement.

5. Imported gas can be as bad as coal for the planet

For gas to be a lesser evil than coal for electricity production, methane leakage should remain below 3.2% during the whole supply chain, otherwise gas becomes just as polluting, if not more polluting than coal.

Recent studies have shown that we have previously underestimated how much methane is released to the atmosphere during gas production. It has been found that onshore gas fields in the United States have levels of leakage of 2-17%. Despite these finding the Australian Industry and Government report far lower emission intensities for unconventional gas emissions based on default emissions factors rather than on reliable measurements.8

Measured fugitive emissions at US gas fields compared to Australian industry and government reporting (Source: MEI)

our natural environment

6. We need to protect our wetlands
Wetlands are amazing places. Combining land and water, they are home to an incredible array of plants and animals and are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth. More than that, recent research has shown that they have the potential to capture and store large amounts of carbon for hundreds of years. Wetlands should be protected and enhanced for their role in the fight against climate change, not being subject to potentially damaging projects like AGL’s proposal.

Unfortunately, in Victoria we have already bulldozed or drained most of our freshwater wetlands, contributing to the loss of approximately 35% of the world’s wetlands between 1970-2015.9

As a signatory of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, the Australian commonwealth has committed to promote the conservation and wise use of wetlands, understood as the maintenance of their ecological character and preventing their degradation.10 It is totally inappropriate to build and operate a gas import terminal in the middle of one of Victoria’s most precious environments and an internationally significant wetland.

7. AGL plans to dump toxic wastewater, breaching Victorian laws

If the project is approved AGL could dump up to 468 million litres of chlorinated water each day. They would draw this water from the Bay and use it to thaw the frozen gas. The water would be chlorinated to destroy all living material, and cooled by around 7 degrees Celsius before being dumped back into the Bay.

Victorian environmental legislation (SEPP Waters) in its clause 22 prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency from granting to a corporation a permit to discharge wastewater in high conservation value areas. Westernport Bay is a Ramsar site and a high conservation value area under Victorian legislation. Because of that, AGL sought to weaken our environmental laws so that they would be allowed to discharge wastewater.

In 2018 AGL made a submission to modify the SEPP Waters to allow companies to dump wastewater in high conservation value areas and clear the path for their polling gas import terminal.11

Thankfully, the EPA rejected AGL’s submission. However, AGL is seeking to proceed with their project despite existing legislation prohibiting their proposed operation.

There is so much we do not know about how this cold chlorinated wastewater will affect marine life in Westernport Bay.

8. AGL’s Environment Effect Statement does not properly address the risk of oil spills

Increased ship traffic in Westernport Bay increases the risk of accidents such as oil spills. AGL’s EES does not include an oil spill modelling / impact risk assessment. Due to existing operations oil tankers would pass directly by the FSRU (Floating Storage Regasification Unit). Although it is uncommon for ships to collide, this risk cannot be simply dismissed. We have faced oil spills in the past such as the Iron Barron spill in Tasmania and the Ethane pipeline incident in Port Philip Bay. An oil spill within the internationally important Ramsar wetland of Westernport Bay could be catastrophic.

It is simply not acceptable for a high-impact, low-probability event such as an oil spill to not be fully addressed in the EES, and we should demand that AGL investigate this risk and mitigation options in more detail.

The local community

9. AGL’s proposal threatens the local community with the risk of fire and explosion

A new fossil fuel project like AGL’s proposed gas import terminal would introduce new risks to the local community and visitors to the area. These risks include people coming into contact with toxic hydrocarbons which may leak from the facility, as well as increased risk of accidental fire and explosion (noted in EES Technical Report K). The nearest homes to the import facility are about 1.5 kms away, and Wooleys Beach – popular with locals and visitors – is within a stone’s throw from the site.

Furthermore, the proposed pipeline from Crib Point to Pakenham is another point of potential leakage, fire and explosion. AGL have completed only preliminary quantitative risk assessments on these risks, and have deemed the risk acceptable on that basis. It is not acceptable to present preliminary studies, and the EES should not continue until we have an independent expert to review these calculations and provide final risk assessments.

AGL’s track record

10. AGL has a history of deceptive and misleading behaviour, making them unfit to build and operate a facility like this

Since 2003 AGL has incurred more than $7 million worth of fines, in some cases for deceptive and misleading behaviour.

In September 2018, AGL was fined a record of almost $3 million by the Victorian Essential Services Commission for “failing to offset its emission levels” by not handing over 64,000 Energy Efficiency Certificates.12

Adding to a long string of similar offences, AGL was this month fined for billing errors which “left thousands of concession customers distressed and confused after receiving high bills they weren’t expecting”.13

On the basis of AGL’s poor track record, and the incredibly high risks involved with this proposal, we question if AGL is fit to build and operate a gas import terminal in Westernport Bay.