Concern for Local Residents

Excerpt from Hunters Hill Trust Journal December, 1972


“Concern for Residents”

With such descriptions as “time bomb in the community”, “tank farm” and “the cancer of Hunters Hill”, the oil depot at Pulpit Point is most unlikely to be cited as “neighbour of the year” in this area.

These terms and others have been used, often in desperation and sometimes fear, be residents living nearby the installation.

The depot, which occupies 26.5 acres of choice waterfront land, has generally been under the control of the Mobil Oil Company following the early days of the Colonial Oil Company, at the beginning of this century.

It is in fact, Mobil’s largest terminal in Australia with 53 tanks having a capacity to hold more than 14 million gallons (63,645,260 litres) of petroleum and associated products.

The turnover of the depot is more than 60 million gallons (272,765,400 litres) per year. Six Million gallons (27,276,540 litres) of oils and a similar quantity of grease are manufactured each year also.

In addition, the Mobil Company informs us through their house journal, that changes are planned for the near future.

Mobil News writes “The depot’s present chemical storage capacity of 1.5 million gallons (6,819,135 litres) will be increased by another million gallons sometime this year or early next.”

“Besides our own chemical activity, we also receive and store chemical products for other companies. By late this year it is planned we will be making our own slab wax”

Mobil News further adds “There is no plan to move our operations from this site and the NSW Government has no plan to move existing oil installations in Sydney Harbour although any further installation must be erected in the Botany Bay area”

In a long standing appeal to the Hunters Hill Trust for the assistance, resident’s concern over the Pulpit Point installation may be summarised in four areas.

Firstly, the continuing noise of giant oil tankers and other heavy commercial vehicles engaged on company business as they wind their way through the otherwise quiet streets – almost around the clock each day. Wybalena Road, Woolwich Road and Alexandra Streets are the only access roads and therefore Mobil has a right to use these under law. The breaking of self-imposed curfews set by the company has become a matter of course which clearly indicates that such regulations have never been truly practised.

Secondly, the smell from treatment of lubricating oils and petrol discharge from ocean tankers has necessitated nearby residents keeping all windows closed and further depreciated the value of their properties.

Also of concern to the entire area is the “time bomb” aspect of petroleum products, many of a highly volatile nature, in close storage. Memories of the depot’s fire* in 1964 still linger with many home owners.

Finally, the threat of continuous expansion is of great importance at Pulpit Point. The depot currently has substantial areas of undeveloped land and in the company’s own words “there is no move for relocation”.

Projected figures from the Fuel Branch of the Department of National Development indicate overall use of petroleum products in Australia is expected to increase by 70% in 10 years and 100% in 15 years. This will naturally increase the traffic nuisance.

The 1964 Fire

The fire at the Pulpit Point storage depot occurred on the 27th October 1964, and began when oil was being loaded into drums. Firemen struggled among millions of gallons/litres of stored fuel, to put out the blaze at the source, with ominous questions like; would the thousands of 44 gallon drums that were exploding in the fire set off the main storage tanks and would they send a spray of blazing fuel over the adjacent homes.

With skill, luck and courage they succeeded.