Mining company Metgasco has been cautioned by the Environment Planning Authority (EPA) for illegally disposing of more than one million litres of coal seam gas waste water into the sewage treatment plant at Casino. The EPA's formal notice to stop was issued in April, after the company had already been dumping water at the plant for nearly a year. Richmond Valley Council was also cautioned for breaching its sewage treatment plant licence conditions by accepting the waste water.
Richmond Valley Council's general manager John Walker said Council initially believed they were able to accept the waste water, until they established it was outside the terms of their licence which does not allow them to accept trade waste.
"We tested the water before we accepted it and found only salty water, with no other contaminants," Mr Walker said. "The EPA found the same thing when they investigated. There was no environmental harm or disruption to the sewage treatment process."."
Boudicca Cerese, spokesperson for Lock the Gate Alliance Northern Rivers said while RVC had self-reported to the EPA, it was only after Council had been contacted by the Alliance's lawyer, formally requesting a response from Council about its activities.
"We found out in March that Metgasco was trucking waste water from its holding ponds to the treatment plant and Council only referred this to the EPA when questioned by the
community," Ms Cerese said. "Metgasco has five holding ponds in operation at the moment and we are concerned that these are inadequate for the amount of waste water the company's operations are extracting. Why else would they be carting water to the plant?"
Mr Walker said that Richmond Valley Council initially accepted the water because of "a concern that the holding ponds mightn't be able to take all the waste water."
Ms Cerese said the Lock The Gate Alliance were calling for the State Government to suspend all of Metgasco's CSG operations in the region and fully investigate their activities to ensure no further unlawful practices are taking place.
"We are concerned that again, it's up to the community to keep an eye on what is going on and notify the authorities that this is happening. It shows a complete lack of monitoring and control by the State Government as it rolls out CSG mining across the state."
Ms Cerese also has concerns about the 1.6 million megalitres of CSG waste water already in the sewage treatment system that will eventually make its way back into the local environment.
"We don't know what's in that water," Ms Cerese said. "Richmond Valley Council said they tested it, but we want to know what the water was tested for; if you only test for salt, only salt will show up. It's possible the water has been contaminated with elevated levels of heavy metals or semi-volatile petrochemicals and we want to know where this waste water will end up."
Mr Walker said Council had been informed by the EPA that if CSG waste water is managed appropriately and not cross contaminated with drilling fluids, there is potential for the waste water to be sold for agricultural irrigation purposes.
CEO of Metgasco, Peter Henderson, said: "All of our operations are approved by Government authorities, including the management of produced water.
"We have independent technical advice that produced water, which is essentially just salty water, can be discharged safely to the local sewage treatment plant," he said.
Mr Henderson said Metgasco is currently reviewing a range of long term water treatment options, some of which include use by local industry and agriculture.