Gas rationing hits manufacturers

The gas supply crisis forced upon Australia's eastern states by the Moomba gas plant fire has ignited calls for a national crisis management plan from the NSW and South Australian State Governments.

As the fallout from the fire continues to grow plant operator Santos has predicted a $30 million drop in annual profits and the national manufacturing sector is considers mass layoffs to deal with the enforced power restrictions.

NSW Premier Bob Carr, acting NSW Energy Minister Michael Egan and South Australian Energy Minister Pat Conlon yesterday called for the urgent introduction of more state energy interconnection systems to protect customers in the event of future disasters.

Major commercial gas users and suppliers in NSW and South Australia including OneSteel, Novus Petroleum, Origin Energy and Orica have predicted some financial fallout from the gas supply crisis. NSW's major gas retailer AGL, has even asked its top four customers to cut consumption while the South Australian government has reportedly asked 50 of the state's largest gas users to either curtail, or stop, gas consumption.

OneSteel said it stands to lose around $5 million after its Whyalla Steelworks operation was affected for 36 hours as a result of the Moomba shutdown.

Holden and Mitsubishi, who are yet to begin their 2004 production lines from their South Australian plants, are keeping a close watch on the situation along with materials producers Pilkington Australasia, Bluescope Steel and packaging giant Visy.

The humble brewery has even been hit with South Australia's Coopers Brewery last week forced to temporarily suspend its operations.

NSW Premier Bob Carr said plans are being hatched to minimise the threat of blackouts and stand-downs in industry.

"It could be two months before there is a return to normal supply. It represents a huge problem to South Australia and the purpose of our meeting today was to share the pain. If South Australia suffers catastrophically, we all hurt."

Residential users and small businesses are not expected to be affected at this stage.

Long forgotten plans of national pipelines and national energy grids have now become the topics of hot debate in the last week as analysts and political heavyweights consider various proposals to ensure such a crisis never occurs again.

The WA State Government is already involved in a feasibility study for a trans continental pipeline linking the east to the massive gas fields off the North West Shelf.

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