Residents mystified by low hum, fluorescent cloud in suburbs
The glow and droning noise are expected to continue in the short term. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
Palmerston residents mystified by a low hum and a luminous cloud hanging overhead have a nearby gas plant to blame, officials say.
Listeners rang and texted ABC Radio Darwin to complain of the droning noise they said was audible in the suburbs of Durack, Driver and Marlow Lagoon.
Moulden resident Peter said he was fishing in a creek close to the plant when he heard it.
“It doesn’t sound like one fighter jet taking off; it sounds like half a dozen taking off simultaneously,” he said.
“It would roar at a higher pitch, then lower for a while, and then it would roar and roar and roar.”
The noise is less intense in residential areas, and some residents have speculated it was emanating from industrial trains or low-flying aircraft.
But the NT Environmental Protection Authority confirmed the noise, as well as the glowing cloud compared by some to a fluorescent light, were related to the start-up of the nearby INPEX Icthys LNG Project.
Gas flaring involves the controlled release and burning of gas and is common during start-up, wind-down and maintenance phases of gas plants.
Head contractor JKC Australia has likened the flare pads at the Bladin Point site to a barbecue “on the grandest scale” and said the site’s four gas flares and one liquid flare covered an area of about 42 acres.
An INPEX spokesperson said flaring was being undertaken to ensure gas from the processing facilities met quality standards.
“This is a standard industry practice conducted in accordance with NT Environment Protection Authority requirements,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“The activity last week was a heightened level. Ongoing, the rate and level of noise will be minimised.”
Need to raise public awareness: EPA
Peter Vasel, the EPA’s director of environmental operations, said the noise could persist for months.
“In the worst-case scenario, [INPEX] were looking at about a six-month period of on and off flaring, which is a vital part of the commissioning phase,” he said.
“However, they’re going to try and minimise that commissioning phase.”
He said he expected this process to have finished by the first quarter of 2019, but that INPEX had been put on notice to improve its community awareness activities.
“I think it should be INPEX who should be more proactive in alerting the communities to what’s happening on a regular basis,” he said.
“It’s their responsibility and they’re required to do that, and obviously because there’s a lot of community angst there, it’s not happening appropriately.”
The company said its flare pad system was “carefully designed and engineered to maximise safety on site and minimise visual impacts for the community”.
Mr Vasel said the EPA hadn’t received any formal complaints or enquiries about the noise, but at least one resident had lodged a query about pollution related to the cloud and was told the EPA would be investigating.
The agency may also consult noise data loggers in coming weeks.
“They need to comply with their licence, and there are conditions in the licence which require them to make sure that noise is at an appropriate level,” Mr Vasel said.
“This is not what it’s going to be like when it’s operating normally.”
The multi-billion-dollar gas project is expected to be the focus of a historic visit to Darwin from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this week.
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