Oil and gas giant BP has pledged it will secure a supply of non-sniffable petrol in vulnerable remote communities despite its plans to close the refinery currently responsible for producing the fuel.
BP has been producing its Opal petrol — a low-aromatic fuel that does not create a high when sniffed — for more than 15 years at its Kwinana refinery south of Perth.
Opal and other low-aromatic fuels (LAF) are credited with all but eradicating petrol-sniffing in remote parts of Australia.
The federal government in August announced it would commit up to $40m over three years to continue the supply of LAF to 185 outlets across Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Viva Energy, which operates the Geelong refinery in Victoria, won a contract to supply fuel outlets in Australia’s north and BP secured a contract to supply petrol stations in the south.
BP announced at the end of October that the Kwinana refinery would close in six months and be converted into a fuel import terminal. BP blamed the closure on competition from large-scale refineries throughout Asia that had left the refinery economically unviable.
About six million litres of Opal fuel is produced at Kwinana each year and is supplied into WA’s remote interior.
In a statement, a spokesman for BP said the company was working to find other means of supplying the fuel. “BP will work closely with the state and federal governments to ensure that supply of Opal fuel continues uninterrupted following the closure of the Kwinana refinery and into the future,” he said. “BP has a number of potential options for supplying Opal fuel, including working with Viva, which already produces and supplies low aromatic fuel in Australia.”
It is understood BP could source the fuel from overseas refineries if necessary.
A spokesman for the federal government’s National Indigenous Australians Agency said the group was in “close contact” with BP to ensure the supply of low aromatic fuel continued beyond the closure of Kwinana.
“It is relevant to note that while BP was the initial low aromatic fuel supplier, the rollout of low aromatic fuel has expanded and matured to provide greater supply security and resilience over the last 15 years. The annual volume supplied has grown and now comes from two suppliers who then make low aromatic fuel available through multiple bulk storage locations around the country,” he said.
A study by the University of Queensland’s School of Public Health last year found a 95.2 per cent drop in the number of people sniffing petrol between 2006 and 2018. It noted the drop in petrol-sniffing flowed into reduced social disruption in the community and less harm to sniffers and described the LAF program as “vital to the health and wellbeing of young people in Indigenous communities with a history of petrol sniffing”.