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EPA gives Santos and AGL “blank cheque” on harmful pollutants

The Lock the Gate Alliance has revealed that the Environment Protection Agency has given Santos and AGL pollution licences for controversial coal seam gas exploration projects that impose no limit on the volume of toxic gases emitted into the air from flaring. The revelation comes just 36 hours after a gas leak at AGL’s Camden CSG operation, near Western Sydney homes. 

Santos was given an Environment Protection Licence in May to explore for coal seam gas in the Pilliga forest in north-west New South Wales and four weeks ago, AGL obtained a similar licence for their coal seam gas fracking project at Gloucester, north of Newcastle.

Both licences allow for the emission into the air from flaring of dangerous carcinogens and other chemicals including Benzene, Benzo(a)pyrene, Hydrogen sulphides, Nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds, but neither imposes any limit on the quantities of these substances – effectively giving the companies a "blank cheque."

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW Coordinator Georgina Woods said, “Within the terms of the licence, this amounts to an unlimited licence to produce and emit these chemicals. In the case of Gloucester, we’re talking about an activity that will occur very close to people’s homes, because Gloucester missed out on the government’s much-touted residential exclusion.”

Gloucester beef farmer Ed Robinson said, “We were shocked that the EPA has not imposed any limit on the emission of these carcinogens near homes in the Gloucester Valley, and that no monitoring stations for them have been prescribed.”

Danielle Hodges lives near AGL’s coal seam gas operation in Camden and said the company had a history of breaching the conditions of their licence. Mrs Hodges said, "There are limits on some of these harmful substances imposed by the licence in Camden, though not all of them. There have been breaches of the licence every year and four in the last eighteen months. Like Gloucester, Camden missed out on the exclusion zone because we’re already living next to a gasfield."

Wee Waa farmer and mother of three, Sarah Ciesiolka said, "The EPA’s failure to set limits from the outset on the pollution coming from Santos’ CSG exploration is a poor start and confirms our fears that the Government is letting the gas companies dictate terms and compromising the health of our communities as a result."

National Toxics Network coal seam gas advisor Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith said, "Gasfields release a range of chemical pollutants, and carcinogens like benzene and the neurotoxin toluene, have been found in the air around homes in Tara, QLD. The hissing gas leak near homes of Spring Farm on Sunday night would be releasing methane plus other contaminants like volatile organic compounds or radon, which is not good for human health."

Ms Woods said, "Two nights ago, there was a gas leak incident from one of AGL’s CSG wells just 200m from a home in Spring Farm, at Camden. There’s supposed to be an exclusion zone for coal seam gas around residential areas, but people in Camden and Gloucester have been left out. We are calling on the Government to suspend the fracking approval at Gloucester, decommission all wells within 2km of homes at Camden, and impose proper regulation on this unsafe industry."

A backgrounder on the coal seam gas licences at Camden, Gloucester and the Pilliga is available here

To email the Premier, mines Minister and local MPs about Camden and Gloucester, visit this action page

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