Coal-seam gas miner Metgasco has been illegally disposing of wastewater from its exploration activities at the Casino Sewage Treatment Plant for almost a year, according to information received by Lock the Gate Northern Rivers (LTGNR).
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) confirmed the activity in a letter to LTGNR’s lawyers received late last week.
The wastewater disposal practice represents a violation of both the gas company’s water-management plan and the Richmond Valley Council’s Sewage Treatment Plant licence, and Echonetdaily understands both parties have been told by the EPA to stop immediately.
‘We found out in March that Metgasco may be removing wastewater from their holding ponds to stop them overflowing, and raised our concerns with Richmond Valley Council at that time,’ said LTGNR spokesperson Boudicca Cerese.
‘Council then referred the matter to the EPA, who have now confirmed that Metgasco have disposed of more than one million litres of CSG wastewater at the Casino sewerage plant since March 2011 in breach of conditions for management of the plant.
‘This disposal practice makes it obvious that Metgasco’s holding ponds are unable to contain the volumes of wastewater produced in drilling operations, despite repeated assurances by them that the ponds are sufficient and will not overflow during heavy rainfall events.
‘The whole matter indicates complete disregard by Metgasco of the regulations under which this industry is supposed to operate, an apparent lack of concern for the impacts of their activities on the environment, and an inability to properly manage the operations which they are undertaking.
‘What we are seeing is an abysmal failure of the current system to properly manage this harmful industry, with industry and local council both flouting existing regulations and a state government that is failing in its duty of care by neglecting to monitor and control the industry.
‘We are calling on the state government to suspend all of Metgasco’s CSG operations in the region and fully investigate their activities to ensure that no further unlawful practices are taking place.
‘It should not be up to local residents to monitor and report on these companies – that is the role of government – and for all their talk about strengthening regulation of the industry, they are currently missing in action on this issue,’ she said.
The incident follows hot on the heels of a state government approval of two coal-seam gas wells at Fullerton Cove, north of Newcastle, last week following advice from the new Independent Expert Scientific Committee set up by the federal government.
The two proposed pilot wells that are planned for drilling by Dart Energy are located next to the Hunter Wetlands Ramsar site, an internationally significant wetland, and will involve drilling through the Tomago sand beds, which provide drinking water for Newcastle.
‘The decision by the interim expert water committee on the Fullerton Cove coal-seam gas wells exposes deep flaws in the process that need to be fixed,’ said Drew Hutton, president of the Lock The Gate Alliance.
‘We are calling for the federal environment minister, Tony Burke, to plug the holes exposed by this decision by amending the Bill which is currently before the Senate with regard to the expert committee.
‘In its advice on the Fullerton Cove wells the expert committee acknowledged “the exposure and activation of acid sulphate soils could cause acidic run-off into the wetlands site”.
‘The committee also admitted that there was a “lack of data about potential impacts of coal-seam gas operations on the Ramsar site”.
‘Despite these two damning statements, the committee just went ahead and gave a green light to Dart Energy with some vague statements about gathering data. It did not even consider the impacts on the drinking water aquifer or the floodplain.
‘This is what we feared most when the committee was first suggested – that it would be just another tick-a-box process that delivered business as usual for the coal-seam gas industry.
‘We’re calling on the minister to fix the process – to require the committee to abide by the precautionary principle and to put in place a moratorium on coal and gas developments until full bio-regional assessments have been completed.
‘This was the first big test for the expert water committee and it fell at the first hurdle. The community expects a lot better,’ he said.