Queensland Community Action Prevents Santos From Freely Dumping Coal Seam Gas Waste

The Guardian

Challenge by Western Downs Alliance prompts environment minister Josh Frydenberg to revamp approval of development
Independent Expert Scientific Committee warned environment minister Josh Frydenberg of ‘considerable scientific uncertainty about potential impacts on surface water’. Photograph: Matthew Abbott for the Guardian
Legal action by a Queensland community group has forced the federal government to stop Santos freely dumping coal seam gas waste water in Surat Basin rivers and streams.
A federal court challenge by the Western Downs Alliance has prompted the minister for environment and energy, Josh Frydenberg, to revamp his approval of the Santos gasfield development, in what has been hailed as a victory in protecting the Dawson river.
The case was set down to be heard by the full bench of the federal court next month, in what was to be the first legal test of the “water trigger” in Australia’s environmental laws, which requires the minister to consider the impact of a resources project on local waterways.
The alliance argued Frydenberg’s approval of the 6,100-well gasfield south-west of Gladstone last March was unlawful because he did not properly assess the impact of releasing millions of litres of waste water into the Dawson river and elsewhere.
The Independent Expert Scientific Committee had warned Frydenberg before the approval that there was “considerable scientific uncertainty about potential impacts [of this project] on surface water and groundwater and associated ecosystems” and that the project’s environmental impacts should be properly assessed.
Despite this, Frydenberg approved conditions that allowed Santos to dump the wastewater into local watercourses without further assessment.
However, Frydenberg and Santos then preempted the legal challenge by agreeing on 23 December to change conditions of the approval to prohibit discharge of wastewater unless the gas giant can gain the minister’s approval by showing it has no harmful impact.
The Environmental Defenders Office New South Wales, which acted for the alliance, said this settled the case and satisfied its client’s claim.
The alliance secretary, Paul King, said the mining lobby group, the Queensland Resources Council, had “scoffed and derided our community when we lodged this challenge, even though this was a vital case that has been successful in preventing Santos from discharging wastewater into our rivers illegally”.
“We’re proud to have stood up for our precious water resources as a community group by taking the federal government and Santos to court to help save the Dawson River from being polluted with coal seam gas wastewater,” King said.
These new conditions on the project should be seen as a win for environmental protection.
“The big mining lobby should stop deriding Queenslanders and start recognising the vital role that communities play in ensuring environmental laws are upheld to protect the land and water our regional communities rely on.”
Santos said little had changed from the original approval, the Courier-Mail reported.
The chief executive of EDO NSW, Sue Higginson, said while many in the community still opposed the project approval over the environmental and social impacts, “these new conditions on the project should be seen as a win for environmental protection and the integrity of the water trigger, which is an important part of Australia’s environmental laws”.
“The community is rightly concerned about Santos’s activities in the Surat Basin – in 2013 Santos began discharging CSG waste water generated from its existing GLNG Project into the Dawson River after discovering it has no other viable means of dealing with the millions of litres of waste water,” she said.
“This case is another great example of the importance of the community’s right to be able to uphold Commonwealth laws designed to protect the environment. The community’s right to access environmental justice is essential to ensure our environment is not irreversibly degraded and our economy grows sustainably.”
A Santos spokesman said the company’s GLNG environmental assessments were “comprehensively reviewed by a range of experts at both State and Federal levels as part of the rigorous and public approvals processes”.
“This condition is consistent with the approach Santos was planning to undertake as per its March 2016 approvals,” he said.
“At all times Santos uses the best available science to explore for and extract natural gas safely without adversely impacting the environment, including water resources.”
Frydenberg’s office has been contacted for comment. QRC declined to comment further.


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