The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has announced the results into its investigation into the contents of an overturned tank at Metgasco’s former Corella CSG test well at Dobies Bight, concluding the spilled contents was mostly cement.
But the scientist who called the EPA to the site last month disputes the agency’s claims that radiation emitted by the substance is comparable to ‘background’ levels.
On May 25 north coast scientists and environmentalist Alan Roberts reported what he considered to be a serious pollution incident at the site, potentially including radioactivity.
EPA officers inspected the site the following day.
‘The incident related to a tank, containing an unknown substance, being tipped over on a private property,’ the EPA’s chief environmental regulator Mr Gifford said.
Tipped over a year ago
During the investigation the landowner told the EPA that the tank was tipped over 12 months some ago.
But the incident was never reported to the authority until it was notified by Mr Roberts in May.
The property was previously leased by Metgasco for CSG exploration and the owner officially accepted the company’s rehabilitation of the in November 2013 after completion of the plug and abandonment of Metgasco’s Corella E17 well.
Mr Gifford said the EPA collected samples at the site, ‘including upslope and downslope of the tank, from a nearby dam, and from within the tank.’
He said the samples were analysed at the Office of Environment and Heritage’s Environmental Forensics Laboratory for radioactivity, salt and metals.
‘The results indicate that the material in the tank is consistent with cement,’ Mr Gifford said.
‘The testing of the samples did not detect radiation at levels beyond those found naturally occurring in the environment,’ he added.
‘The results for salts and metals indicate that materials from the tank did discharge at the time the tank was tipped over, however, these pose no risk to the environment.’
Mr Gifford said that based on the results of the EPA’s investigation ‘the EPA is satisfied that the cement material, which is contained within the tank, does not pose a risk to human health or the environment.’
‘The EPA has determined that due to elevated pH, potassium and sodium levels detected, the material in the tank should be disposed of at a licensed waste facility. The EPA has requested that the landholder does this by July 31.
Mr Roberts said he was impressed with the fast response of the EPA to his complaint.
But he was less enthusiastic about the agency’s conclusions, particularly with regards to the radiation levels.
‘The Geiger counter used by us counted twice as fast in the tank, when compared to other areas around the drill site (our statistics were provided to the EPA), Mr Roberts said.
‘The EPA used rate meters which are too noisy to discriminate against background nuclear radiation and hence (possibly) dismissed the radiation as ‘background’. If you are familiar with working with the random nature of nuclear radiation, you know that you need to count – and the longer you count the more accurate your data,’ he added.
‘Now we have the entirely unsatisfactory situation whereby Metgasco has possibly evaded their responsibility under the REF to remove waste from, and not to bury any waste on the drill site.
‘The EPA claims that landowner, Mark McCaughey has taken over the responsibility to clean up the site. Someone has drained most of the tank’s contents onto the drill site and into the dam and now the landowner is being told (by the EPA and for reasons unknown) that the contents of the tank aren’t radioactive and can simply be treated in the same way that one would consider handling cement,’ Mr Roberts said.
‘Anyone working near the waste tank could be unwittingly exposed to up to 2.6 times the normal rate of DNA damage and should be forewarned.
‘We are not at all comfortable that the material in the tank is being passed off as “cement-like” and find this an inadequate and simplified analysis,’ he said.
‘Only a fraction of the tank’s contents have formed the cement hydrate and even that has black material in it which is 2.1 times background nuclear radiation,’ he added.
‘There is also something in the tank that corrodes stainless steel. We’re thankful that the EPA is working to ensure the material is disposed of in a licensed waste facility.
‘Clearly the system that supposedly protects the environment from mining waste is a failure. We are thankful that the EPA acted promptly, lessening the risk of this messy situation worsening.
‘This breach was only discovered by chance, which raises the BIG question: ” how many more breaches are lurking on the decaying Northern Rivers CSG trail?” pondered Alan.,’ Mr Roberts said