New documents obtained under Right to Information laws reveal the Queensland Government encouraged Santos to update its Gladstone GLNG plant Environmental Authority so the company could increase pollution.
The recommendation from the state’s environment department came after Santos was fined for a flaring incident at the facility last year where black smoke was visible for longer than the permitted five minutes in a two hour period.
The new application to amend the company’s EA, if approved, would allow the GLNG plant to emit black smoke for up to 90 minutes at a time during “maintenance”.
Similar conditions are already in place at the neighbouring QCLNG facility, despite objections from Gladstone community groups.
In its Compliance Report to Santos in relation to the $13,000 fine for violating its original EA, the department officer states:
“I further advised (redacted) that the department would like to have further discussions with Santos in regard to ways forward to prevent reoccurrences of such events/alleged offences. (Redacted) suggested that an EA amendment process is likely desirable to Santos and I stated that the department is of the same opinion. A meeting will be held… in the coming weeks to discuss an EA amendment.” (Compliance Report, P 14)
Santos has subsequently applied to amend its EA so its GLNG plant can now (P15):
Release visible black smoke into the air via “flaring” for a continuous 90 minute period during “maintenance activity”.
Cause “an environmental nuisance at any sensitive or commercial place” through the releasing of dust and particulate matter if it occurs due to an emergency, or is authorised by its environmental authority or the EP Act.
The GLNG and QCLNG plants near Gladstone are already able to flare black smoke continuously at night because under their EA conditions, doing so doesn’t count as impeding visual amenity.
Gladstone Conservation Council co-ordinator Anna Hitchcock said it was disgraceful that a government department charged with protecting the environment and the state’s people from harm would actively encourage companies to increase pollution.
“The Queensland Government has encouraged Santos to water down its Environment Authority simply to make it more convenient for Santos to pollute our air,” she said.
“When the gas plants were built, the companies promised the community smokeless flares. This was clearly a lie.
“The government doesn’t even monitor these LNG plants for EA violations - it is solely up to members of the public and community groups like ours to report violations. If approved, it will become harder to prove Santos has produced black smoke for longer than a continuous 90 minute period because we are simply taking photos with our phones to do the government's job for it.
“This is not just a case of giant gas companies getting what they want - it’s a case of a government actively making polluting easier at the expense of the public’s health.”
The Gladstone Conservation Council will make a submission opposing the changes to Santos’ EA, just as it did when QCLNG applied to relax its EA two years ago.