Evacuation Grounds is an apt home for this Queensland Telegraph online article quoting the concerns of our own Peter Neilsen. Is Peter being over-alarmist? I don't think so but let's hope we never find out...
By John Mikkelsen
A GLADSTONE district resident claims the region is sitting on a potential time bomb that could rattle windows in Rockhampton, following the devastating explosion that flattened a community on the outskirts of Waco, Texas last week (pictured).
Peter Neilsen, of Mt Larcom, points to the explosives storage facility at Bajool and the Orica chemicals plant at Yarwun, which represent many times more ammonium nitrate than the small amount of ammonium fertiliser blamed for the Texas explosion which caused mass fatalities.
Texan authorities initially said the blast on April 18, thought to have been caused by an industrial accident, had resulted in 15 deaths but subsequent reports have quoted the toll as 25 or possibly as many as 60 or 70.
Neilsen does not present as an overly nervous type, but he is also mindful of the explosion which tore through a natural gas pipeline facility in Raynosa, Mexico last September, killing 26 workers. Massive pipelines to service the multi-billion dollar LNG plants on Curtis Island will also pass close to his town on their way to Gladstone.
“With a combination of the LNG and Orica, Gladstone is sitting on a time bomb,” he claimed.
“The 24.5 metric tonnes of anhydrous ammonia (a much less volatile product than ammonium nitrate) that caused so much destruction in Waco Texas, is less than the load of the highly explosive ammonium nitrate being carried on a single B double trailer.
“We pass many semis and B doubles heading towards the Bruce Highway loaded with ammonium nitrate every time we go to town.
“Just one semi last week had 26 one tonne bags of ammonium nitrate (a normal single trailer load) which is six tonnes more than the material that exploded in Waco and more volatile if it is activated,” Neilsen said.
However a spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources and Mines said the fertiliser plant in Waco was using anhydrous ammonia not ammonium nitrate and in Queensland this product was regulated.
“Most ammonium nitrate is imported through Port Alma south of Rockhampton while smaller quantities may arrive through Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns. All ports have strict security and safety controls in place,” the spokesperson said.
“Significant amounts of ammonium nitrate are also transported by road from ports or manufacturing plants to mines where it is the main ingredient in explosives.
“Transport of ammonium nitrate is subject to strict security and safety provisions and routine vehicle checks.
“Ammonium nitrate must be transported in a locked container or vessel or be under constant surveillance by an authorised person accompanying the load.”
Mr Neilsen said there were also many thousands of tonnes of the highly explosive material stored within a couple of hundred metres of the Bruce Highway at Bajool.
“A couple of years ago there was almost an explosion at the Bajool explosive battery where the thousands of tonnes of explosives are stored.
“A bearing on a conveyor seized and overheated causing the contents of a storage tank to overheat and start to emit vapour that was potentially extremely explosive.
“The highway was closed several kilometres away to the north and south and the surrounding town and residences were being prepared to evacuate for their safety.
“It was stated in the press at the time that if the storage hopper had exploded it would have blown out windows in Rockhampton, 35kms away (in a straight line).”
The Department’s spokesperson said there were significant safety requirements to ensure storage facilities and manufacturing plants were not located in close proximity to populated areas and had effective safety and health risk management plans and security plans in place to minimise the risk of fire or contamination that could lead to an explosion.