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South Gippsland’s Corner Inlet could be under threat from toxic waste


Friends of The Earth Australia (FoE) – a non-governmental organisation advocating for social and environmental issues – reported that Esso is planning to build a massive, toxic, industrial dump in the middle of a United Nations-listed wetland on the eastern side of Corner Inlet on Victoria’s Gippsland Coast.

Corner Inlet is a scenic destination with over forty sandy barrier beaches and marine life of ecological importance. It is considered by people across the state as a haven for fishing, boating and diving.
Esso, also known as ExxonMobil Australia, has been conducting offshore mining, recovering oil and gas from the Bass Strait just out from Corner Inlet. This operation began in 1969 when the first of 19 offshore mining platforms was constructed.

FoE has reported that Esso is planning to dump decommissioned oil and gas platforms into the middle of the Corner Inlet site. This dump would include thousands of tonnes of hazardous radioactive waste, huge amounts of asbestos, oil, and other hydrocarbons, as well as mercury, lead and other heavy metals. Eventually, the waste materials would be broken down and transported away.

Since the 1970s, The Ramsar Convention has protected over 2,000 wetland sites across the globe. Corner Inlet is one of 66 Ramsar Wetland sites in Australia.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) Offshore Fossil Gas Campaigner, Jeff Waters said he was seeking an urgent meeting with the Federal Minister for the Environment and Water asking for assurances that the Corner Inlet Ramsar site will be protected.

“This is an enormous toxic threat to an internationally important wetland, and governments need to act immediately,” he said. 

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that according to the Victorian Environment Minister, The Victorian government has not been approached by ExxonMobil with a proposal for a breaking and recycling yard for retired oil and gas platforms from Bass Strait at Corner Inlet. They also stated that any projects that could impact a Ramsar-listed site would be assessed under environment and biodiversity regulations.
In contradiction to this, Jeff Waters claimed in an interview with 3CR Radical Radio that Esso is already in negotiations with all levels of government about these plans.

A spokesperson from Esso stated that they plan to utilise its existing port facility at Barry Beach Marine Terminal (BBMT) to break down and recycle the materials. It is the same facility where they were constructed 60 years ago.

According to Esso, the top sections of the platforms will be transported on barges to Barry Beach Marine Terminal and unloaded at the existing port facility. They will be dismantled and recycled onshore.
Esso also stated that the structures will not come into contact with the water at Corner Inlet. They want to ensure all activities at BBMT would be in line with environmental regulations.

This would include approximately 60,000 tonnes of steel that could be recycled and repurposed.
Esso has proposed that the materials could be used to manufacture offshore wind turbines, providing the area with a cleaner energy alternative.

While Esso believes that this process can be done without harming the local environment, Friends of the Earth believes otherwise and has the right to question the methods and priorities of the oil and gas giant.
“How are they going to remove thousands of tonnes of hazardous radioactive waste? Where will it be stored?” Waters said.

“That Esso wants to build a massive, highly toxic, multi-story breaking yard in the middle of this fragile wetland is just another demonstration of how it holds Australia in contempt,” he said.

“The industry should be made to pay for a world’s-best-practice recycling centre, with European-style environmental safeguards,” he said.

While the future of Corner Inlet currently seems uncertain, with conflicting and contradictory reports from these two parties, the hope is that the wildlife and beauty of the bay will remain as untouched as possible.

Corner Inlet is an attractive tourist destination within the state, a prominent wetland for a range of migratory birds and a home to unique marine flora and fauna.

Any damage to the area could have a devastating impact on the local population as well as the ecological environment.

The Trafalgar District News was unable to reach Jeff Waters of FoE for additional comment during the time of writing this story. We will endeavour to discover more on this subject over coming months.