Government accused of cover-ups on gas pollution incidents
The State Government must come clean about its cover-ups of pollution incidents involving both coal seam gas and underground coal gasification projects in the Surat Basin. In the latest incident in Kogan Creek, landholders had alerted the Bligh Government to mercury levels 5 times the acceptable limit in January, but departmental officers did not respond until July. That is plainly unacceptable.
Six Degrees spokesperson on coal seam gas Drew Hutton said these incidents had followed one after another so that a pattern of cover-up and complicity was clear.
Kogan Creek is the latest and most blatant of these incidents, and involved the pollution of a creek at Kogan with mercury and toxic hydrocarbons. The creek on the property of Rob and Sharon Lohse of Kogan tested positive for contamination but it took till June for the Government to agree to tests, and to early July for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DERM) to respond to their pleas for help.
DERM finally responded on July 8 once it became obvious that the Cougar Energy plant at Kingaroy had similar pollution incidents.
The company Carbon Energy operates an Underground Coal Gasification facility at nearby Bloodwood Creek.
According to Sharon Lohse, tests of water in Kogan Creek in January showed five times the recommended levels of mercury and double the level of sodium compared with former tests. In testing the sample, DERM confirmed that the contamination was likely to be from coal seam gas water, going by the levels of the minerals.
The article in today's Sydney Morning Herald points out that the Lohse family were forced to quarantine the 150 hectare paddock and shut down water supply to troughs and tanks and withheld 110 cattle exposed to the water from sale.
Ms Lohse has also indicated that dead turtles have been found and turtle activity in Kogan Creek has ceased.
As Six Degrees spokesperson Drew Hutton points out, this is one of many incidents in which the government has demonstrated an unwillingness to respond to the concerns of landholders, or a severe lack of capacity to implement these projects safely. According to Mr Hutton:
There is a pattern of polluting and dangerous incidents from the coal seam gas and UCG industries which the State Government authorities have allowed to go unchecked.
And this is happening when the industry is just beginning. Imagine what it will be like when we have gas wells and UCG plants right across the region with regulators who are unwilling to bring these companies to account.
In mid-2009 trucks deposited many megalitres of product water from coal seam gas wells on roads around Tara. The water, which was high in total dissolved solids including salt, went into local dams and went racing down creeks throughout the area. DERM has acknowledged this happened but has never done anything to bring the company to task and trucks are still regularly seen in the Tara area depositing product water during rain events.
In another incident, a gas pipeline disconnected with a roar that could be hear for miles in farmland to the west of Dalby earlier in the year. This potentially dangerous incident was also reported to DERM and a report has gone to State Cabinet and yet nothing has ever been done about it.
The continuing pattern of non-disclosure and delayed regulatory investigation prompted Western Downs Mayor Ray Brown to say to Andrew Fraser from The Australian:
We just want to know what's happening.
We don't want the government to be blinded by a royalty cheque from the mining companies.
Mayor Ray Brown told ABC News that council had attempted to get action from the Bligh Government on numerous occasions:
We were informed back in March of this year that there was an incident of concern at Kogan - we immediately forwarded that on through the departments through to DERM.
Now we followed up on probably six occasions what was happening and we still have had no response to that initial concerns back in March.
These products shouldn't be there - I don't care where they've come from - they shouldn't be there so we must find out where it is.
To state that 'we'll take out a sample today' - this should have been acted on weeks ago, if not months ago, to find where these contaminants are coming from."
To support landholders and farmers directly affected by coal and coal seam gas mining, please come to the parliamentary protest on Wednesday August 4th at 12pm.
Speakers will include:
- Ruth Armstrong (Basin Sustainability Alliance)
- Rob McCreath (Friends of Felton)
- Jo Bragg (Environmental Defenders Office)
- Scott Collins (Western Downs Alliance)
- Drew Hutton (Friends of the Earth)
Morning tea provided from 11am in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. All welcome!