AGL is again in trouble over the waste from its Gloucester Gas Project, with members of anti-gas groups accusing it of using convoys of trucks to transport potentially toxic flowback water via the Pacific Highway to Queensland for processing.
Nobody wants the waste in NSW and, with in excess of 110 wells planned for the first stage of the project alone, Kyogle Group Against Gas is calling on the company to come clean on what it plans to do with the toxic waste in the longer term.
In August, Echonetdaily revealed that AGL was using transport company Toxfree to haul the flowback water from its Gloucester wells in unmarked tankers, 600km north along the notoriously dangerous highway through Gasfield Free declared areas, to Toxfree’s Narangba treatment facility north of Brisbane.
The waste was then ‘treated’ so that it could be supplied on to UnityWater, the entity responsible for sewage and drinking water for the region.
UnityWater then discharged it via their sewer outlet at Burpengary, 1.2km from the mouth of the Caboolture River.
The truck movements stopped soon after Echonetdaily’s article appeared but according to a Gloucester resident they have recently recommenced.
In late September, a UnityWater spokesperson told Toxfree it would no longer receive CSG flowback water but a Toxfree tanker was again seen leaving the AGL project site on November 16.
AGL later confirmed the transports had resumed and UnityWater have also confirmed that they will dispose of the waste again.
Between June and September, Toxfree reportedly trucked some 60,000 litres a week of CSG wastewater to the Narangba facility.
Maximum levels exceeded
The practice has raised the ire of gasfield-free groups, including Kyogle GAG, who have researched the processes used to dispose of the flowback water.
The group says the PLASCON treatment process used by Toxfree does not have the capacity to deal with volume of waste being delivered from AGL and may in any case not be up to the task of decontaminating it.
According to figures advertised on UnityWater’s own website*, the group says AGL’s wastewater did not meet the allowable maximums on a number of counts.
A report prepared for AGL by EnRISKS likens the flowback water to stormwater but the group says it is ‘very dissimilar on many counts’.
Kyogle GAG spokesperson Johanna Evans queried how confident the community could be that Toxfree ‘behaves in a manner that is ethical and in the best interests of the local population’.
‘With no heavy metals tested before September 9 and no testing by Unitywater for a multitude of chemicals possibly contained in the flowback water, how can we be sure that this waste is fit for discharge?’ Ms Evans asked.
‘The footprint of the unconventional gas industry is enormous. This project not only impacts residents of Gloucester; there are now unknown impacts occurring some 600 kilometres away with what appears to be an unregulated and lax monitoring system.
‘Is there any facility with the ability to treat the enormous volumes of waste to be generated?
‘Indications are that there will be thousands of heavy vehicular movements traversing the most dangerous stretch of road on the east coast of Australia – which begs the alarming question, “How long until an accident occurs and what emergency plans are in place for such?”’ Ms Evans questioned.
* According to Kyogle GAG, the Toxfree-treated AGL waste did not meet UnityWater’s Sewer Admission Limits (SAL) as advertised on the company’s website. The limit for Chemical Oxygen Demand was up to 600mg/L – whereas the AGL waste had an upper limit of 1500mg/L (2½ times the maximum allowance). Sulphate has an upper limit of 2000mg/L (more than 130 times the maximum allowable limit of 15mg/L) and the total dissolved solids at discharge into the river was 15,000mg/L (limit not advertised on website).