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Byron Shire
May 31, 2024

Toxic tankers back on northern rivers roads

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Toxfree tankers loaded with AGL wastewater headed for the Pacific Highway. Photo Johanna Evans
Toxfree tankers loaded with AGL wastewater headed for the Pacific Highway. Photo Johanna Evans

Chris Dobney

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.

Transports resume

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).

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  1. WOW They moved 3 semi trailers a week. (20,000 litres per Semi)
    How many semi’s of petrol/diesel/gas and dangerous goods moved up this (MOST DANGEROURS ROAD) in 1 week?????? Actually you are right the road from Gloucester to Taree is shiit but the highway north is great.

  2. AGL are currently transporting 6 loads per week so around 120,000 litres of waste per week goes 600km north because no contractor in NSW will accept it.
    The highway north has large sections of roadworks and is far from ‘great’ and is renowned for being a dangerous road. The company don’t have to tell you that the water is toxic because they have an exemption but you will find if you look into it that this waste is classified as hazardous yet how are the public/fire brigade/police/emergency workers/first responders to know that if the tankers are unmarked?
    Dangerous goods vehicles such as the ones you mention Frank have to display signage don’t they?
    It may seem a small matter to some but IMO it is a risk that could be mitigated should the company so desire and this would be a very reasonable solution to public concern should they continue to transport this waste.

    • The people in the Northern Rivers are tripping really, the land up there has been heavily cleared and polluted by cattle farming. its sad everyone is stuffing up the land and arguing who is doing it worse. There’s obviously little issue with transporting the water, a spill wouldn’t compare to a fuel spill which occurs, pollution is everywhere. Its the old ‘who is without sin cast the first stone’, all the Bentley protestors were cooking with gas and probably use gas at home. When greenies that aren’t greenies take the self righteous stance they do positive change is held back because everyone gets defensive.

      I tried to talk to the Bentley people about trees but they were a pack of jerks, I am a greenie and look after wildlife, I don’t live on land which has had all the rainforest cleared from it with cattle grazing it which ruin creeks like the locals up there.

      Kyogle has been flogged by farming, I took my ex gf up there in 2011 and saw it. The land is parched and yellow/brown, hardly any trees and it feels horrible. If you people up there were genuine about looking after nature you would be reforesting the land before it gets worse.

  3. Well Mr McDonald you may be missing the point it does come down to disclosure. A tanker full of Petrol Deisel or toxic chemicals may traverse not only our highways and also residential streets every day. The greatest difference is the strictest of guide lines by hopefully reputable and regulated companies. With signage and load sheets depicting its cargo therefore the authorities know exactly the measures needed for clean up evacuation and rehabilitation. The many mining company’s have historically never disclosed the amounts or types of chemicals used within their operations, residual non residual or carcinogenic. Many mining companies do not act openly or respectively I dare say the same may be said for its unregulated contractors. I also would possibly get an agreeance by many our highway north is far from great.

  4. The comment regarding no NSW contractors will touch it is a bit misleading. It is not because the water is unable to be treated it is because NSW has a levy on the water treatment where Qld does not.
    It is simply economics at play here and not an attempt to hide the issue. It is cheaper to transport to Qld for disposal than it would be to dispose in NSW. When the levy returns in Qld you will see the tide swing the other way.
    Also looking at the individual Sewer Admission Limits (SAL) for the individual waste streams is not all that useful because there are other various waste streams that will reduce the overall contaminants such as COD contributing compounds and sulfates making the water suitable for ocean outfall discharge.Not to mention the actual treatment processes.
    Removal of heavy metals from waste water is a well developed process and removal down to ppb levels is easily achieved in even the most basic water treatment plants.
    Also hazardous waste is not the same as Dangerous Goods, anything can be hazardous.

    • In response to your comments about SAL, SAL are designed as a kind of quality control on the material that is being put into the sewer – if this is not the case please let me know. When a waste stream does not meet this criteria then the limits are relaxed and the client is charged more – is this the case?
      The problems I see with the SAL in this case is that there are entirely inadequate standards for testing and monitoring of this type of toxic waste. The onus is on Unitywater to test the effluent for all chemicals, organic, inorganic and radioactive which could reasonably be expected to be in CSG flowback before releasing it into the sewerage stream. Is this happening? It would appear that even after treatment the the waste does not even come close to meeting the SAL.
      This brings us back to the problem with treating this volume of waste. IMO it’s not possible for Toxfree to treat the volume effectively.
      Point taken re hazardous waste/dangerous goods, point still made though that in an unmarked vehicle this waste is totally unrecognisable and it is toxic.

  5. To address your comments Glen, in regards to your allegation that the statement about no NSW contractors wanting to touch the waste is misleading… it’s not misleading…. this is clearly the case.
    Hunter Water emphatically stated in March 2014 that it would not take the water:
    “HUNTER Water has refused to dispose of waste water from AGL’s Gloucester coal seam gas project because of concerns about chemical contamination.”
    Despite this, in late 2014, Transpacific ignored Hunter water and were fined $30,000 for discharging the waste into the sewer:
    In a media statement in Feb 2015, Hunter Water again reaffirm their stance:
    Attached to this statement is a copy of correspondence with AGL dated February 2014. Hunter Water maintains its position was clear in that it would not accept wastewater from AGL’s coal seam gas mine at Gloucester. It should be noted that flow-back water, whether treated or untreated, is still classified as “wastewater”, hence Hunter Water’s inclusion of the below sentence:
    “Hunter Water will not be able to accept AGL’s wastewater from hydraulic stimulation activities.”
    The non-acceptance of this waste in NSW has nothing to do with levies, the waste is simply to toxic and Hunter Water know it.

    I will reply to your other comments shortly.


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