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For decades Queensland’s sugar cane farmers have been throwing money into the creeks and rivers that flow past their properties. That’s the money spent on excess fertiliser that runs off during heavy rain and makes its way to the ocean. It’s estimated that three quarters of nitrogen fertiliser put on cane farms leaches from the soil within a few months of application.
When nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser enters rivers and ends up in the Reef, it upsets the natural balance of the marine environment. Algae love nitrogen and phosphorus. In a high nutrient environment algae can then become so numerous that the sunlight that normally reaches the sea floor can no longer do so. That means seagrass and other light dependent bottom-dwelling organisms have trouble growing and reproducing. Crown of Thorns starfish that destroy hard corals also love nitrogen and that’s one of the reasons they are in such large numbers on the Reef at present.Read more
Why Adani is wrong in saying they did not pollute the Reef and Caley Valley Wetlands during Cyclone Debbie
Adani has repeatedly claimed it did nothing wrong in relation its management of Abbot Point coal terminal during Cyclone Debbie. The reality is that Adani did cause pollution. Here are the facts:
Temporary Emissions Licence
On 28 April 2017, the Department of Environment & Science (formerly Dept of Environment & Heritage Protection - DEHP) issued Adani with a retrospectively amended Temporary Emissions Licence for the company’s coal terminal at Abbot Point.
The licence permitted Adani to increase the concentration of contaminants flowing into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the Caley Valley wetlands from the 30 milligrams per litre (mg/L) to 100mg/L.
Exceedance of TEL
After the cyclone Adani reported to the Queensland Government that the concentration of contaminants measured in water samples collected at the location that flowed into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (known as W2) was 806mg/L. Those samples were collected using an automated process. The concentration of contaminants exceeded the temporarily permitted limit by more than 800%.
At the other authorised location (called W1), which flowed into the Caley Valley Wetlands, samples were collected after staff returned to the site following the cyclone. At the time of collection the concentration was 80mg/L which was below the temporary limit. However, there were no samples collected during the event so nobody knows whether the limit was exceeded at any time while the licence was in operation.
On 3 May 2017 the head of Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Jim Reeves, said that Adani could face a penalty of $3.8 million for a wilful breach of its licence. However, on 20 July DEHP issued Adani with a $12,190 fine for the breach. On 24 August the ABC reported that Adani had informed DEHP that it would contest the fine. The government has until 7 September 2018 to decide whether to take the matter to court.
Public awareness of the coal spill followed aerial photographs taken after Cyclone Debbie indicating a significant flow of coal from stockpiles at the port into Caley Valley wetlands through release point W1. A July 2017 report by the Queensland government reports on a scientific assessment of the wetlands post Cyclone Debbie. Soil samples collected by the Queensland government were analysed by two companies, Australian Laboratory Services (ALS) and UQ Materials Performance (UQMP).
ALS analysed the samples using Australian Standards AS2856 Part 1 & 2 and found that coal made up 26.8% of the samples taken from Caley Valley shore and 15.4% of the samples from Caley Valley wetlands. The report says that these represent “quite a significant volume of coal”.
UQMP used an in-house analysis method and found that the samples contained 10% and 2% coal just near location W2 and trace contamination across the wetlands.
In Adani’s 27 August 2018 statement the company quotes a Queensland government report that says there is little visual evidence of coal fines across the entire wetland.
Mackay Conservation Group visited the Caley Valley wetlands on 27 & 28 April 2017 following an invitation from Queensland’s environment minister. We had been told that we would be able to collect soil samples at the site but on arrival people representing Adani told us we could not collect any samples or photographs. During our visit we observed significant coverage of coal fines in the parts of the wetland we were permitted to visit. The Queensland Government photo above shows significant coal contamination in the soil sample taken in the Caley Valley wetlands. More photos from the site inspection can be found here.
Adani has been required by the Queensland Government to undertake an environmental evaluation into the causes and impacts of the coal spill into the Caley Valley wetlands. Adani has appealed this requirement and the case will be heard in October 2018.
For a more extensive background document on this issue see this article on our website.
A Right To Information request by Mackay Conservation Group (MCG) has resulted in the release of previously secret documents which reveal that both Adani and the Queensland Government were well aware that water, containing high concentrations of pollutants, could be released from Adani’s Abbot Point coal terminal into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area during Cyclone Debbie, in breach of even the special licence to pollute that the Department of Environment issued at the time.
After the cyclone Adani admitted to breaching its Temporary Emissions Licence (TEL) by more than 800% of the amount of coal polluted water allowed to be released into the Reef coast. Adani subsequently spent a year attempting to block the release of documents that would reveal what the company knew about the concentration of pollutants that could flow into the environment. In agreeing to release the information, the Right to Information Commissioner criticised Adani’s arguments for blocking the documents as “too speculative or conjectural to form a reasonably based expectation” that it could prejudice an ongoing investigation into a possible contravention of the TEL.
Despite a clear breach of Adani’s licence to pollute, it is now sixteen months since the cyclone and it appears that the Queensland government has failed to yet launch proceedings to prosecute Adani for unlawfully releasing coal polluted water into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The latest advice from the Department is that it has until 7 September 2018 to launch a prosecution.
Meanwhile Adani is:
- challenging the Penalty Infringement Notice (PIN) of $12,190 for the breach and, as part of proceedings, was alleged to have submitted an altered laboratory report about the concentration of contaminants released to the marine environment;
- appealing the Queensland Environment Department’s decision to require that they carry out an environmental investigation as a result of the discharge during the cyclone into the Caley Valley Wetlands at Abbot Point, to look at causes and impacts
- seeking approval from the Queensland government to increase the amount of coal that goes through its Abbot Point Port by 10 million tonnes per annum, yet failing to ensure its terminal is more storm proof and likely to pollute.
The previously secret documents, released under RTI are here. The judgment by the Queensland Information Commission is here.
An extensive blog on the pollution incident at Abbot Point, and how events unfolded, has been prepared by the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office and can be found here.Read more
The latest Mackay-Whitsunday Waterway Health report card continues to highlight the region’s poor water quality despite years of effort and millions of dollars to clean it up. Regulations will be required to improve water quality and protect the Great Barrier Reef.
The Mackay Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership which includes members from 22 organisations representing the community, industry, research groups and government has recently released their waterway health report card for the 2014 – 15 year for our region. You can download a copy of the 2015 Report Card hereRead more
The Great Barrier Reef is being threatened from many fronts. Climate change, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, disease outbreaks, extreme weather, shipping, ghost nets, rubbish and introduced species are all stressing the reef. The reef is also being stressed by large quantities of nutrients and sediments flowing into its waters from coastal streams.
The Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership has been formed to identify water quality problems in rivers from Bowen to Hay Point. The partnership aims to ensure that rivers and streams are properly managed to reduce the flow of pollutants into the reef.
On Wednesday 6 July at 6pm we will be hosting an information session about the partnership to introduce the partnership and the most recent report card on our waterways. Di Tarte and Charlie Morgan will explain how the report card has been developed and how the project will proceed in the future.
If you are concerned about the health of the reef and our waterways, please come along to this meeting.
6pm - 7pm Wednesday 6 July 2016
Mackay Environment Centre, 156 Wood St Mackay