TOXIC waste water will continue polluting an aquifer in the Pilliga until Santos has finished constructing a new treatment plant.
The company is bailing the water out of the aquifer twice a week and returning it to the storage pond from which it leaked.
The “short-term solution” is mandatory under a legally-binding deal struck with the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).
Under the agreement, Santos is also required to develop a pollution reduction program and groundwater remediation and monitoring plans. The environmental regulator last month fined Santos $1500 – which has been paid – after elevated levels of metals, including uranium, were detected. The EPA has defended itself against criticism of the paltry fine, saying the total cost to Santos from its mitigation and rehabilitation activities will top $10 million.
Santos maintains the saline water leaking from the 160megalitre pond caused a concentration of the soil’s naturally occurring lead, arsenic, barium, boron, nickel and uranium.
In a statement to The Leader, an EPA spokesman said the company would continue with the bailing until its water storage and treatment plant on a property called Leewood was built.
“This is a short-term solution and there are appropriate controls in place,” he said. “This effectively creates a closed loop and prevents further spread of any leakage from the pond.”
Santos hydrogeologist Glenn Toogood said the aquifer, or “shallow perch water table”, was completely isolated and the contaminated water could not escape.
He said the company was “about half-way through” building the Leewood treatment plant, which includes two 300megalitre ponds.
“Moving forward, we will build our Leewood treatment facility and as soon as that’s commissioned and approved we will remove the water (from the leaking pond) and we can then undertake some rehabilitation works on it,” he said.
“As soon as that’s commissioned we’ll relocate the water using an existing pipeline we’ve just installed where it will be stored and then treated.”