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Critically endangered bum breathing turtles hold breath for Santos’ next move as oil and gas giant backs down from gas waste dump plan

Oil and gas giant Santos has backed down from a plan to dump unlimited amounts of untreated coal seam gas wastewater into a Central Queensland river which is home to a critically endangered species of bum breathing turtle.

In response to community pressure, and following a scathing assessment by the federal Independent Expert Scientific Committee, Santos recently announced it would not proceed with the plan to release untreated CSG wastewater from its 6,100 well gasfield into the Dawson River.

Despite the win, groups opposed to the project remain concerned because Santos still plans to dump up to 18 million litres of “reverse osmosis” treated CSG waste water into the river each day. 

The IESC report noted (see Fairview Water Scheme) that even the release of treated water could pose a threat to the turtle, due to increased erosion of riverbanks, decreased water quality, and the possibility it would allow invasive species to move further upstream.

It also noted the treated water “will contain chemicals used in CSG operations (including chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, drilling, water treatment) as well as geogenics that may adversely impact EPBC Act-listed turtles and other biota”.

Theodore resident and Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland Upper Dawson member Ann Hobson said Santos had shown its disregard for the long term environmental consequences by suggesting dumping untreated wastewater in the river.

“It’s a relief to see that Santos has now withdrawn that threat to the health of our river, but more has to be done,” she said.

“The ecosystem of the Upper Dawson must remain intact and healthy to give the white throated snapping turtle, platypus and other species the best chance of survival.

“Allowing Santos to dump 18 million litres of treated CSG waste into the river each day already threatens the longevity of this delicately balanced water ecosystem that has been the source of life and livelihood for more than 600 centuries. The long-term health of the Dawson River and all the ecological communities that rely on it is more important than gasfield profits.”

Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland Coordinator Ellie Smith said, “If Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is serious about ending the extinction crisis, she needs to put a stop to this project.

“There is a federal species recovery plan in place for the white throated snapping turtle. It is a species that is extremely sensitive to water disturbances. Santos mustn’t be allowed to disturb its habitat in such a way that it threatens the turtles’ survival.

“More broadly, the ongoing expansion of the unconventional gas industry in QLD threatens many more species because it industrialises and pollutes landscapes while simultaneously driving the climate crisis. 

“The Albanese Government needs to make a choice. It can end extinctions in Australia, or it can allow new gasfields, not both.”


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