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Tanya Plibersek urged to save critically endangered “bum-breathing” turtles from Santos’ bad gas

Lock the Gate Alliance is calling on Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to refuse Santos’ plan to dump untreated coal seam gas wastewater in the Dawson River following a scathing scientific review that found the proposal would threaten critically endangered turtles.

Santos wants to dump huge volumes of waste water into the river to accommodate the 6,100 gaswell expansion of its Gas Field Development project near Roma.

According to its EPBC application, Santos wants to release untreated CSG water up to 52 times per annum until 2066, and up to 18 million litres of “reverse osmosis treated” CSG wastewater each day into the Dawson River.

The independent federal authority that provides expert scientific advice on coal seam gas proposals (IESC) recently responded to Santos’ plan and made a number of serious criticisms including:

  • The proposal would threaten a population of the critically endangered white throated snapping turtle and threatened Fitzroy River turtle, both “bum-breathing” (cloacal respiration) species. 

  • This unique form of breathing means the turtles, particularly juveniles, are extremely susceptible to changes in water quality

  • Hazardous chemicals Santos plans to discharge into the river, such as Tributyl Tetradecyl Phosphonium Chloride pose a risk to the aquatic ecosystem.

  • Santos’ EPBC application lacked detail, including necessary surveys to determine whether other critically endangered species such as the Boggomoss snail (Adclarkia dawsonensis) might be present without the company realising.

  • Even water treated using reverse osmosis threatens the health of the river, with the scientists finding increased water levels could allow pest species further downstream to move upstream into areas where they are not present.

Theodore resident and Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland Upper Dawson member Ann Hobson said Santos should not discharge its waste water into the Dawson or its catchments. 

“The health of the Dawson River and all the ecological communities that rely on it will be life-giving for communities for centuries to come, while the gasfield is a short-term cash grab that will only line the pockets of shareholders and executives,” she said. 

“The turtles and the aquatic life that depend on the health of this river need our help. They must not be sacrificed so Santos can make more money shipping gas off-shore. 

“The IESC report confirms what the Upper Dawson Branch of Wildlife Queensland has long known - there is no safe way to dispose of untreated wastewater from coal seam gas.  

 ”We cannot allow Santos the opportunity to set a precedent for what could be an ever-increasing discharge into what is now a relatively healthy ecosystem of the Upper Dawson. This ecosystem must be protected.”

Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Gavin Mudd said, “We have known for decades that dilution is not the solution to pollution.

"Simply dumping contaminants into an aquatic ecosystem only burdens the biodiversity and all users of that river – we can and must do better to treat wastewaters, protect biodiversity, and mitigate pollution risks. Dump and dilute is fossil thinking writ large.”

Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said, “This is an opportunity for Minister Plibersek to show that she means business when it comes to protecting Australia’s environment and its critically endangered species.

“This is a lazy and ill-considered application by Santos which is unwilling to face up to the true cost and impact of its coal seam gas developments. 

“The State of the Environment Report showed the devastating decline of our native wildlife numbers and their habitat. This is an opportunity to put threatened species first. 

“Minister Plibersek should refuse this risky wastewater proposal and save some of the last remaining populations of white throated snapping turtles.”


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