Santos fined $1500 - uranium at 20 times safe levels found in aquifer at the Pilliga

NORTH West farmers say the latest Santos fine for Pilliga Forest contamination will not curb coal seam gas exploration but it sends another message for closer scrutiny and regulation.

The Greens have called for the end of the coal seam gas industry in NSW after the NSW Environmental Protection Authority fined Santos $1500 for aquifer contamination in the Pilliga Forest at Bibblewindi water treatment plant.

Uranium was detected in the aquifer at 335 micrograms per litre – 20 times safe drinking water levels.

The news brought renewed calls from environmental groups and the state opposition for action from the O’Farrell government, particularly in the wake of an agreement to fast-track the Santos project.

Copper mine engineer Jeremy Borowski, who works in Nyngan, said the latest incident raised new concerns in farming families and communities.

But Mr Borowski doubts it will be a turning point for CSG, but he’s still concerned for the future of his family’s farm north of Coonamble, and said this was a “taste of things to come”.

“What it does do, though, is it shows this industry is not squeaky clean,” he said.

“They should be putting far more money into the whole public relations side of things, but they have the support of the government, so the rest of their voting base can go to hell.”

Mr Borowski said the only way to prove CSG exploration affected water on their property was to pay thousands of dollars for baseline studies.

“Despite recent rainfall, we’re still feeding, but we’ll still cough up the thousands it costs to get our bores monitored and sampled, that’s the only leg we have to stand on,” he said.

Mr Borowski said, when their water show-ed contamination, they would have the evidence to seek compensation, but money would not pay for their losses.

“Money is not going to bring our food security or generational farms back,” he said.

Anti-CSG campaigner Tim Duddy, a farmer from Caroona, said the CSG industry needed more regulation.

“The CSG industry is a fledgling industry that, if it is going to have any future, needs very strict enforced regulation,” he said.

“To contemplate a new industry without regulation is insane.” 

Santos notified the EPA of the contamination after ground water sampling results showed “elevated levels of total dissolved solids and slightly elevated levels of others elements” in March last year.

In a statement, Santos said it had “always been clear” the Bibblewindi facilities did not meet company standards and that new water storage and treatment facilities were needed at Leewood.

The company said they shut down the water treatment facilities in December 2011, shortly after they took over from Eastern Star Gas.

Santos stated the localised groundwater was not used for agriculture, stock irrigation, human consumption or domestic purposes. 

Mr Duddy said Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Santos, soon after the contamination was publicly known, was “a perfect illustration that people are trying to get around the rules”.

The MOU is designed to speed up the project, in the Pilliga forest near Narrabri, guaranteeing a decision on its future by January 23 next year.

“It is scandalous that the government knew of this serious contamination incident when they announced the MOU to fast-track Santos’ Narrabri project,” Greens spokesperson on mining Jeremy Buckingham said.

Mr Buckingham called on the NSW government to halt all CSG activities.

Santos were fined in January for a contaminated water spill at the same site and for failing to report the spill.

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