A RANGE of unanswered questions have emerged over Santos’ Pilliga uranium aquifer contamination , as the environmental watchdog's investigation report comes to light.
In March 26, 2013, Santos advised the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) its monitoring measures had detected aquifer contamination was caused by a leaking storage pond at the Bibblewindi site, which contained salty water which had been sucked up from underground during coal seam gas (CSG) activates.
Nearly a year after Santos was fined, in March 2014, the EPA finalised its report on the contamination.
But the EPA investigation leaves key questions unanswered concerning remediation of the Pilliga’s groundwater, the reliance of the authority on companies for information and public health risks.
It confirmed a groundwater system beneath the Bibblewindi storage pond contained heavy metals and other elements, including elevating uranium levels to 20 times the safe drinking limits. Santos was fined $1500 by the EPA for causing the contamination.
The investigation report details correspondence between the EPA and other government agencies, highlighting areas requiring further information, including:
Can the contaminated groundwater be repaired?
Santos advised the EPA in October its trial efforts to remove contaminated water had failed.
"The results of the trial concluded that recovering the perched water by abstraction in the surrounding shallow perched bores is impractical,” Santos said.
Further remediation plans are not discussed.
Have all potential health concerns been laid to rest?
The NSW Office of Health was consulted on potential impacts on drinking water. Its advice, reproduced in the EPA’s report, noted the “nearest public drinking water supply is 27 kilometres away (Narrabri) and does not appear to be affected by the Bibblewindi site.
NSW Health said it “would be appropriate” for the NSW Office of Water to independently review the technical information Santos’ provided to the EPA to establish its accuracy.
“This is considered somewhat justified given that the report has some comprehensive limitation attached,” NSW Health said.
Does the EPA have enough resources to monitor effectively?
The data on which the EPA’s report is based has been provided by Santos. The Land does not suggest impropriety on either Santos or the EPA’s behalf, but this does highlight the limitations of the government regulator and the significant role the gas proponent plays in monitoring its environmental impacts.
Wilderness Society Newcastle campaign manager Naomi Hogan said: "Santos said it would never threaten groundwater, but it has polluted an aquifer with uranium and other toxic heavy metals and the EPA report says Santos can’t fully clean up the mess".
A Santos spokeswoman said "rehabilitation works are continuing", noting the contamination poses no health risk.
The water from the storage pond will be transferred to a treatment facility, she said.
“Monitoring will continue to ensure the isolated groundwater underlying the pond is rehabilitated. There remains no risk to people or livestock."