10 Feb 2012

Toxic Spill Not Our Fault, Says Santos

By Kate Ausburn
Independent testing has shown high levels of toxic chemicals in soil and water after a spill at a Narrabri coal seam gas site. Environment groups say it's just one more reason for a moratorium on drilling

With new tests revealing high levels of toxic chemicals present in soil and water at a Santos coal seam gas (CSG) site near Narrabri in the north of NSW, environment groups say it's time to shut down the operation.

Heavy metals up to 37 times higher than average levels and five times drinking water standards are present in water samples from the site, according to test results.

The Wilderness Society and The Northern Inland Council for the Environment collected water and soil samples for testing from the area adjacent to the Bibblewindi CSG water treatment plant in the Pilliga Forest on 6 January, seven months after a spill of 10,000 litres of untreated saline CSG water. The tests were undertaken by an accredited environmental laboratory, ALS, and cross-checked at the University of Newcastle.

The results indicate that high levels of chemicals remain present at the CSG site. The environment groups who commissioned the testing say they are now questioning whether it was an isolated incident given that there have been seven months of high rainfall in the area following the spill.

Naomi Hogan, spokesperson for the Wilderness Society said in a statement: "The test results ... raise concerns that it is not a one-off spill and that the coal seam gas water may still be leaking into the environment, given the high concentrations of semi-volatile petrochemicals recorded."

The groups say they decided to run tests after local community noticed "tree kill" in the Pilliga near the location of the spill that occurred in June last year.

"The NSW Government should have acted immediately after we reported the tree deaths in October and collected samples. They could have had them analysed and the results back within 10 days," said Carmel Flint for the Northern Inland Council for the Environment.

"Now, three months later, we still have no information from the government about what the spill entailed, and had to do our own testing to find out.

"It should not be left to the community to police and monitor coal seam gas operations, and it should not be left to environment groups to fund basic water testing from donations," said Flint.

At the time of the June spill the CSG project in the Pilliga existed as a joint venture between Santos and Eastern Star Gas (ESG). ESG held a 65 per cent interest in the project and Santos a 35 per cent interest. At the time, Santos also held a 20.9 per cent interest in ESG. The joint venture arrangements changed, however, in November, when Santos wholly acquired ESG. Post-transaction, Santos was left with an 80 per cent stake in the project. The remaining 20 per cent is owned by TRUenergy however this stake is financial only. Santos now operates all of ESG's drillling licences, including the Narrabri Gas Project.

Since the takeover Santos has said they are reviewing all of ESG's operations, including the project in the Pilliga.

It was Santos that reported the 10,000 litre spill to the NSW government in January this year, and the company is distancing itself from involvement in the incident saying in a brief statement issued to media outlets: "The leak occurred well before Santos acquired Eastern Star Gas and was reported by Santos as soon as the company became aware of it.

"The leak should not have occurred and was preventable."

In fact, a report in the Sydney Morning Herald today indicated that the June spill was not an isolated incident. A Santos company spokesperson was quoted as saying, "There have been three subsequent, smaller leaks of water from coal seams within Eastern Star's Pilliga operations in the weeks immediately following Santos' acquisition of the company,'' a spokesman said.

NSW Greens mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham told New Matilda that Santos is trying to "pass the buck".

"The truth is they have always had a share in Eastern Star Gas and also a share in the Pilliga as a joint venture project. So for them to say that this didn't happen on their watch is untrue," he said.

Buckingham said that Santos' experience with the CSG industry in Queensland should have made them aware of the need to monitor Eastern Star Gas' management of what was their joint venture project in the Pilliga forest.

Santos say they intend to work with the state government to rehabilitate the site under a plan to be agreed with Forests NSW, but environment groups say this isn't good enough.

"The NSW Government should shut down the Santos operation in the Pilliga, the last great temperate woodland left in NSW, and implement an immediate moratorium on coal seam gas mining," said Hogan from the Wilderness Society.

This latest news comes after Santos' admission last month that it had spilled about 250 litres of algaecide in December.

The gas project in the Pilliga is set to become the biggest CSG field in NSW but Santos representative James Baulderstone told a November hearing of the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the industry that it would be conducting at least three years more research before any significant development commenced.

Baulderstone outlined the profile of Santos' CSG business in the state saying that the acquisition of ESG "will make Santos the principal coal seam gas exploration and ultimately production business in New South Wales. We clearly have a big stake in the success of a new natural gas industry in this State".

Santos was approached for further comment on the water and soil contamination in the Pilliga for this story but had not responded at publication.

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David Grayling
Posted Saturday, February 11, 2012 - 19:55

"It's nothing to do with us," they bleat. Then all the Corporations do. They have to be kicked screaming through the Court's before they will grudgingly accept their responsibilities.

It seems that the affairs of our nation are being compromised to suit the interests of wealthy investors and shareholders who should have no say in such things.

Let's ignore the combined bleating of Corporations and shareholders and govern for the good of the citizens of Australia!


This user is a New Matilda supporter. thomasee73
Posted Sunday, February 12, 2012 - 20:56

Indeed Director's duties require Corporations to bleat "It's nothing to do with us".

It's not an individual moral failing, it's institutionalised in the law. And of course it is, for wealthy investors have greater influence over the making of the law than do the general citizens of Australia, who are sure David Grayling is a nutter conspiracy theorist - because the newspapers say he is.

David Grayling
Posted Monday, February 13, 2012 - 10:06

Thomasee73, which newspaper said that? I must've missed it?

This user is a New Matilda supporter. thomasee73
Posted Monday, February 13, 2012 - 20:49

The Australian, metaphorically speaking


<i>And why do the American people go along with all these outrages? Basically because they are dills who do what they are told and because the media excludes people who tell the truth. Chomsky calls it "manufactured consent".

The conspiracy theory aside, it is still an argument from another age, before everybody had access to endless online opinions.</i>

They didn't name you directly in this particular article, but it's implied.

David Grayling
Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 08:33

Thanks for your reply, thomasee73. I read the article and feel that you are drawing a very long bow. I'm only a tiny fish in a very, very big pond in which sharks swim.


Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 14:21

Like all big corporations, it's not our fault, poison the people, poison the food bowls, poison the water catchment areas, poison the wild life, we don't care or give a stuff so long as we can get our way as bribes will buy anything.

Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 14:50

"It isn't our fault because it occurred before we acquired ESG". Santos, what happened to due diligence? You had to have found out about it during that, and made allowance for the cost. Now you're just trying to get out of that and hoping for a windfall if we are dumb enough to believe you. Nice try, but no deal.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. ErikH
Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 16:24

This is from the same company that had an almost 20% stake in the Lapindo Mud Flow disaster near Surabaya in Indonesia. They denied any involvement in that too!

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidoarjo_mud_flow

Yes, I know it's Wikipedia but, having seen the devastation first hand and the impact on the people who either lost their lives or their livelihood with pathetic compensation and corruption in terms of placing responsibility (the Minister in charge of the investigation is a shareholder in Lapindo), you've got to wonder.