Australia's AGL makes final push to win approval for LNG import terminal

MELBOURNE, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Australia’s AGL Energy Ltd on Thursday made a final bid for approval of a long delayed gas import terminal in the state of Victoria which it said would fill an expected shortfall in gas supply from 2024 and not damage the environment.

AGL in 2016 was the first company to propose importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) to southeastern Australia, aiming for deliveries to start in 2021, but its plans were held up due to pressure from opponents for an extended environmental review.

The review, which received more than 6,000 submissions, will send its recommendations in early 2021 to Victoria’s planning minister, who is due to decide on the project in March.

Opponents have said the terminal is not needed as gas demand has fallen since AGL first proposed the project; several big battery projects which could help meet energy needs have been announced; and a rival LNG import project in the state of New South Wales, which could serve Victoria, has been approved.

In the final day of 10 weeks of hearings, AGL lawyers said opponents’ submissions were largely driven by opposition to fossil fuels rather than the ecological impact of the project at Crib Point.

“Fear or anger would not be lessened if it was (moved) anywhere else in Victoria or Australia,” Christopher Townsend, a lawyer representing AGL, told the inquiry.

Opponents said chlorinated, chilled seawater discharged by the floating storage and regasification unit (RFSU) that will be parked at Crib Point could hurt tourism and harm sea life in internationally recognised wetlands.

“Crib Point is the wrong location for this kind of large-scale industrial facility,” Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, who represents the area where Crib Point is located, said in a submission to the inquiry.

Rival gas import terminals proposed at Port Kembla in New South Wales and Corio in Victoria were both “vastly better alternatives from an environmental perspective”, he said, referring to plans by Australian Industrial Energy Pty Ltd and Viva Energy Group Ltd respectively.

AGL said there was no evidence its terminal would harm fish, plankton or sea grasses in the area. (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Christopher Cushing)