Local landholders are outraged after gas company Beach Energy polluted groundwater at its Katnook gas processing plant near Penola in South Australia, and is yet to be fined.
Residents are particularly upset because holes in a wastewater storage pond where the leak occurred were first detected eight months earlier, but insufficient action was taken to fix them. Beach Energy appears to have repaired holes above the water line, but not beneath it.
The Environment Protection Authority served Adelaide Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Beach Energy, with an Environment Protection Order late last month after petroleum hydrocarbons were detected in groundwater as a result of a leak in the wastewater pond’s polyethylene liner.
Petroleum hydrocarbons are, in some cases, toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic, and pose a serious risk to groundwater if released into the local environment. The contamination of water sources with hydrocarbons as a result of gas drilling is recognised as a serious, global issue.
The EPA has given Beach Energy until November 14 to repair the linings in the pond and to conduct groundwater monitoring from three wells in the region each month for six months.
A fine is yet to be issued, despite Beach first becoming aware of holes in the pond liner in March. The company also received a $6 million taxpayer-funded grant from the Commonwealth Government’s Gas Acceleration Program towards the cost of rehabilitating its old Katnook gas plant, and received more than $17 million from the previous State Government for a variety of projects around the state.
Limestone Coast Protection Alliance co-chair Angus Ralton, who lives near the site, said the response by the EPA to the contamination event fell well short of community expectations.
“We’re used to seeing gas companies get a slap on the wrist when they pollute the environment, but this is ridiculous,” he said.
“This sad and sorry episode proves what we have been saying for years – it does not have to be fracked gas to cause problems for our environment or groundwater, even this type of ‘conventional gas’ activity can result in pollution and potential public health risks.
“This also shows how risky the Morrison Government’s plan to waste taxpayer dollars on dirty, polluting gasfields really is - it puts our water resources at threat.
“We’re calling for Beach Energy to be prosecuted for polluting our groundwater.
“We’d also like to see independent monitoring of groundwater in the area, not more ‘self-monitoring’ by petroleum companies.”
The previous SA Government, before the 2018 election, made the following grants under its PACE (Plan for Accelerated Exploration) plan:
$6 million to Beach Energy towards the cost of drilling Haselgrove3 (completed)
$6.89 million to Beach Energy/Cooper Energy towards the cost of drilling Dombey1 (to be drilled this year)
$4.95 million to Rawson/Vintage (now Lakes Oil) towards the cost of drilling Nangwarry1 (to be drilled this year)
In addition to these PACE grants the previous State Government also gave $11 million to Beach Energy to upgrade their office in Adelaide, for which Beach committed to stay in South Australia for a minimum of ten years.
Shortly after the SA state election in March 2018 when the Liberal Party took power, the current Federal Liberal government made a GAP (Gas Acceleration Plan) grant of $6 million dollars towards the cost of $23 million to reinstate (rebuild) the old Katnook power plant.