Santos fails to clean up uranium contamination

The Wilderness Society released the statement below on May 5.


An Environmental Protection Authority report says gas company Santos can’t fully clean up the uranium contamination of an aquifer in the Pilliga Forest in north-west NSW, saying that attempts to recover the polluted water were “impractical”.

Wilderness Society Newcastle campaign manager Naomi Hogan said: “Santos said it would never threaten groundwater, but it has polluted an aquifer with uranium and other toxic heavy metals, and the EPA report says Santos can’t fully clean up the mess. Santos’s plan for recovery was to pump contaminated water into the waste-water pond which is still leaking, and even that failed.”

Furthermore, the EPA report into the contamination in the Pilliga Forest is based upon a report commissioned and paid for by Santos, the company that caused the damage.

Santos refused to allow the government’s groundwater experts, the Office of Water, to fully review its original report, despite the NSW Health Department calling for it. Santos did allow the EPA to show it to Office of Water staff at a face to face meeting, but Water staff said the Santos report was “very technical” and they “would need to fully review the documents to be able to provide a full report”.

Hogan said: “What is Santos trying to hide by refusing to allow the government’s groundwater experts to review its report into the spill?”

The NSW Health Department would not comment on the Santos report’s conclusions, noting that it had “comprehensive limitations” and much of the report was based on modelling rather than actual measurements. It recommended the EPA require monitoring programs to gain “confidence that the contamination is not more extensive than currently thought”.

Hogan said: “The EPA report also wrongly stated that Santos was not a repeat offender even though it was also being prosecuted in the Land and Environment Court and had been fined twice before. That might explain why Santos was slapped with a wet lettuce of a $1500 fine for a serious contamination event.

“The community can have no faith that our environment, our water supplies and our farmland will be safe, especially now as Santos plans to drill 850 wells throughout the Pilliga and productive Narrabri farmlands.

“Santos has a long, tragic history of failure in the Pilliga Forest, with at least 20 toxic coal seam gas waste-water spills and continuing leaks from evaporation ponds.

“The NSW government must tear up the agreement with Santos to fast-track the approval of all these wells until the inquiry is complete.

“The Pilliga is the state’s last great inland forest — its creeks feed the Murray-Darling river system and it’s a major recharge zone for the Great Artesian Basin, a critical water source for farmers and inland Australia.”