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Calls for audit into EPA over fuel spill -

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Calls for audit into EPA over fuel spill

Alison Caldwell reported this story on Tuesday, February 9, 2010 12:28:00

ELEANOR HALL: Emergency crews have been working through the night in Melbourne to deal with a fuel
spill at a petrol refinery in the city's west.

An alarm alerted authorities to the leak just before midnight. The Environment Protection Authority
says it plans to investigate how the leak happened.

But critics say the EPA should be doing more to protect residents who live near refineries.

In Melbourne, Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: This morning fire crews have been pouring foam over the spilled fuel to stop it
from igniting, after a tank containing three and a half million litres of fuel started to leak just
before midnight last night.

Mobil engineers are draining the remaining fuel from the tank. The refinery has measures in place
to stop fuel from spilling into drains or affecting the surrounding wetlands.

Metropolitan Fire Brigade Commander, Ken Brown.

KEN BROWN: The fuel overnight from about midnight is being transferred through internal pipes to
another tank. The leak coming out of the side of the tank has subsided quite substantially since we
first arrived here.

ALISON CALDWELL: Mobil's oil refinery is in Altona in Melbourne's west, across the West Gate
Bridge, not far from Williamstown and Yarraville. Hundreds of residents live less than two
kilometres away from the refinery. Wetlands are nearby as is a creek which leads to Port Phillip

The Environment Protection Authority had officers on site in the early hours of this morning,
monitoring the containment.

Bruce Dawson is the EPA's director of Environmental Services.

BRUCE DAWSON: The petrol that has leaked from the tank has been contained.

ALISON CALDWELL: As it is there are houses quite close by, aren't there?

BRUCE DAWSON: The houses are within a few hundred metres of the Mobil Altona refinery. We will be
undertaking an investigation into the cause of this incident. We will be getting an incident report
as part of that investigation from Mobil.

ALISON CALDWELL: While this leak appears to have been contained, Mobil is still cleaning up after
another leak in nearby Newport.

In December 2004, over one million litres of unleaded petrol leaked from an underground pipeline
and into groundwater.

Two years later, a resident noticed the smell coming from a drain. Eventually Mobil was ordered to
clean up the spill and pay compensation.

Bruce Dawson again.

BRUCE DAWSON: They were charged $350,000 and had to pay an additional $160,000 in EPA costs making
it the largest prosecution for a land based offence in Victoria for an environmental offence. Mobil
have also been directed by EPA to undertake a cleanup and that cleanup is ongoing.

ALISON CALWELL: As I understand it, that cleanup is going to take a decade?

BRUCE DAWSON: The cleanup could take many, many years indeed and Mobil are likely to be involved in
that cleanup for many years in the future.

ALISON CALDWELL: But the EPA should be doing more to protect the community in Melbourne's west
according to Greens Upper House MP Colleen Hartland who was elected in 2006. She says the tanks are
old and failing into disrepair.

COLLEEN HARTLAND: As I understand it, the average age is somewhere between 40 and 60 years. This is
a very old facility. It has been there as long as Altona has been there as I understand it and most
of the facilities in this area are quite, have aged quite considerably obviously.

ALISON CALDWELL: Nearly 20 years ago, Colleen Hartland was living in Footscray not far from Altona
and not far from Coode Island, where a chemical storage facility blew up in 1991 sending a cloud of
smoke and chemicals across the city.

Last year the EPA came under fire for failing to do its job when hundreds of residents were forced
to leave their homes in Melbourne's outer south east after a methane leak.

Victoria's Ombudsman found that the EPA placed residents of the Brookland Greens Housing estate in
Cranbourne at unnecessary risk and failed to take action for many months.

Colleen Hartland believes it's time for a much wider audit of the EPA.

COLLEEN HARTLAND: I am going to be writing to the ombudsman and asking for the ombudsman to
actually enquire into the behaviour of the EPA as the authority that is supposed to be protecting
the environment.

Now we have already seen because of the Brookland Greens Estate in Casey that there are major
deficits within the EPA but I think that we need to have a much closer look at their behaviour over
a whole range of issues and not just on one particular site.

ELEANOR HALL: That Greens MP, Coleen Hartland, ending Alison Caldwell's report.