The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has commenced investigations into a suspected spill of contaminated water from a storage tank at Metgasco’s decommissioned Corella exploration well near Dobies Bight.
But the authority told Echonetdaily yesterday it is ‘satisfied that the site does not pose any immediate pollution threat’ despite not having received back all the results from samples it took at the site last week.
North coast environmentalist and scientist Alan Roberts, who took samples of his own at the site before alerting the EPA last week, says his tests are ‘demonstrably repeatable’ and is accusing the authority of ‘facilitating environmental damage.’
The Corella test well was decommissioned in June 2013 and on November 6 that year Metgasco submitted a statutory declaration that the site had been rehabilitated.
On November 28 the landowner, Mark McCaughey, confirmed to the department of resources and energy that the rehabilitation had been conducted to his satisfaction.
But a large plastic tank that is thought to have contained fluids associated with the CSG test well was left at the site.
Early last month nearby residents noticed that it had tipped over, apparently leaking its contents in the direction of a nearby dam.
Following a closer examination, including taking radiation readings and other tests of his own, Mr Roberts alerted the EPA last week.
In a letter to chief environmental regulator Mark Gifford, dated May 25, Mr Roberts wrote, ‘I recently revisited the location and found that a 10,000-litre plastic tank that I had seen being used in the decommissioning process had been tipped on its side and apparently allowed to drain substantially into the environment.
Mr Roberts photographed the tank during the decommissioning process, at which time it was still standing, and he believes considerable force would have been needed to dislodge it.
One photo he took on May 8 he says shows ‘the depression left by the force used to roll the tank clockwise.’
‘The tank is only about 10m directly uphill from a farm dam and also uphill of tributaries to Dyraaba Creek,’ he added.
‘The remaining waste in the tank has since solidified, and analysis of the remnants suggests that it is a caustic substance with apparently elevated levels of radioactivity,’ Mr Roberts wrote.
He told the EPA his own testing found a dried material still in the tank which was both caustic (pH 9.85) and radioactive (2.6 times background nuclear radiation).
Mr Roberts said the mixture in the tank was ‘heterogeneous’ with some components more radioactive than others.
‘Most radioactive… is a soft grey mudstone which is sliceable like cheese and has readings 2.6x background. Least radioactive is the darker components… and dirt-like material. The brick-like material is less radioactive at 2.1x background.’
An EPA spokesperson told Echonetdaily the authority had ‘received a report from a member of the public about a potential pollution incident associated with the Metgasco Corella E17 site at Dobies Bight, near Casino, on Monday May 25 via the EPA’s Environment Line.’
‘EPA officers inspected the site on Tuesday May 26 and collected samples for testing,’ the spokesperson added.
‘No elevated radiation has been detected in the samples collected at the site. The EPA is waiting on other results from sample analysis.’
Despite not having all the test results, the spokesperson added, ‘the EPA is satisfied that the site does not pose any immediate pollution threat.’
The EPA said it would ‘provide the results of its investigation once complete.’
EPA ‘demonstrably wrong’
But Mr Roberts says he believes his readings were accurate and repeatable and has called on the EPA to release its figures.
‘I’m confident in our results. They’re detailed, repeatable and well clear of statistical error. The nuclear radiation in samples of the material from within the tank was up to 2.6 times background which increases the risk of DNA damage 2.6 times more than a person only exposed to background radiation. I would like to be aware if I was to be exposed to this level. EPA cannot claim the nuclear radiation was not elevated,’ he said.
Mr Roberts added that he used nuclear radiation during his MSc research at Melbourne University.
‘I am very familiar with nuclear radiation statistics,’ he said.
‘There is no doubt that the samples from in the tank are elevated as stated in the breach report and to say that they aren’t elevated levels of nuclear radiation is demonstrably wrong.
‘I’m prepared to demonstrate that EPA is wrong in saying the nuclear radiation levels aren’t elevated.
Mr Roberts said he was also confident of his pH measurement, showing the sample as caustic.
‘If the EPA is saying it’s OK to dump a tankful of caustic (pH 9.85) material with a nuclear radioactive level 2.6 times background into dams and waterways then they should be clear about this. If this is the case then the EPA is facilitating environmental damage,’ Mr Roberts said.
Since this report was written, the EPA have clarified their position regarding there being ‘no immediate threat to the public’ to mean ‘there is no current pollution taking place requiring booms or other devices to be activated’. The spokesperson said the full results of testing would be available ‘within the week’.