The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Well done to Santos

Graham Marshall - Friday, March 14, 2014

The Greenies reaction to the news of aquifer contamination - which actually occurred several years ago - at a location recently purchased by Santos in NSW shows how these people try to create a climate of fear around low-risk and low-impact events.

In response to the leak, NSW Labor put out a press release stating that: “The O’Farrell Government’s Memorandum of Understanding with Santos to fast track the approval process for Coal Seam Gas mining in the Pilliga forest should be torn up in light of revelations of contamination of the water aquifer.”

And the Greens exclaimed that this event meant it was "game over for coal seam gas”.

Which is, of course, their ultimate aim to achieve.

Many environmental groups have also leapt on the bandwagon to justify their opposition to Coal Seam Gas (CSG).

But what actually happened - and more importantly - what is the risk?

Several years ago a retaining dam was constructed in the Pilliga Forest, near Narrabri, to hold produced water extracted from wells drilled in the search for CSG.

The dam was not lined properly and it leaked.

The leaking water then entered an aquifer.

According to the NSW EPA, the contaminated aquifer - being inside the Pilliga forest - was not used for livestock, crop irrigation or human consumption.

But the leaking water contained NORM - Naturally-occurring Radioactive Materials - and other naturally-occurring minerals found in bedrock through which the drill-string passed (e.g., lead, arsenic and barium).

Fast forward to a couple of years ago - when Santos purchased the legacy asset from the original owners.

In looking over the asset as part of its due-diligence process (a good way to identify environmental issues so they can be managed properly), Santos themselves discovered the problem with the dam.

You'll recall that the dam was constructed by the prior owner of the operation before Santos acquired it.

Being a good corporate citizen, however, Santos then reported the leaking dam to the EPA.

For whatever legal reason, the NSW EPA fined Santos $1,500 because the dam leak (which occurred prior to Santos' ownership) had contaminated the aquifer.

Maybe fair enough I guess.

But the Greenies jumped on the story and the minor fine to beef-up the talk and transform the issue of NORM into "Uranium" poisoning in drinking water and lead, arsenic, and barium toxicity.

The Greenies know that "Uranium" holds a special place of fear in the human psyche due to its association atomic bombs.

So they'll stoop to any level of fear-mongering in their desperate attempt to convince the Australian population that Santos and the search for CSG is evil.

The reality, in this case, is that a small and relatively low consequence spill, with absolutely low-risk consequence to animal or public health should not be allowed to stand in the way of a billion-dollar industry that creates tens of thousands of jobs for Australians.

And Santos should be congratulated for its environmental practices; firstly discovering the leak, secondly reporting it to the EPA, and finally, in remediating it!

Well done Santos!

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