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Santos and NT Government lied to community over groundwater monitoring data at fracksites

Recently released groundwater monitoring data from the Santos Tanumbirini exploratory frack site reveals the community was kept in the dark over unexplained recorded spikes in salinity in an ordinarily freshwater aquifer.

Data from electrical conductivity (EC) loggers (which effectively monitor salinity) in two monitoring bores recorded spikes after Santos conducted pressure testing in August 2019 and then fracked in November 2019 in the nearby gas well. The raw data for the control monitoring bore is available here and data for the impact monitoring bore is here.

While direct water samples from the same wells did not show any increases in salinity, the marked changes in EC logger results should have been reported and action taken to address them. The EC loggers were not replaced for at least a year, and the sensor system in place did not comply with the Fracking Inquiry recommendations of multi-level sensors.

Notably, Santos’ quarterly groundwater report to the Northern Territory Government for the Tanumbirini well for this period did not mention this EC logger data at all, thereby completely hiding the recorded spikes, instead referring only to manually obtained, non-continuous water samples which did not show any salinity increases.

As well, an NT Government issued “community bulletin” (see here) concerning groundwater monitoring at Santos’ Tanumbirini and Inacumba petroleum well sites from the same time period failed to mention the recorded salinity readings, instead telling the community: 

Santos identified very limited variation over the period, and no material changes in groundwater levels.”

The NT Government only recently published the data online on its Point website, after repeated requests from Protect Country Alliance. PCA has subsequently sent a “please explain” letter to Environment Minister Eva Lawler in response to the issue (see here).

Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said “This incident has exposed the failure of the Northern Territory Government to implement Pepper Inquiry recommendations relating to monitoring.

“The requirement for multi-level monitoring has not been implemented. Water monitoring data has not been continuous and has not been provided in real time as recommended.  

“No matter which way you look at it, Santos and the government have not been transparent with the public. In fact, they have hidden this data, which has only been made public three years after the event.

Santos also continued using the loggers but did not report the results. 

“The NT public has always been deeply concerned about the threat fracking poses to groundwater. If Santos and the government wanted to allay these concerns, they would be more transparent with this data. Instead, they have lied to the community, and delayed its release for three years.

“We are calling for an immediate halt to fracking, and an independent investigation into what has occurred at Santos’ Tanumbirini well site. Inadequate water monitoring puts the entire region as risk”


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