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Appeal against Buru pollution license

September 13, 2017
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I have just returned from a meeting with the Appeals Convenor to discuss CCWA’s appeal against the pollution license for the Ungani oil production facility in the Kimberley.

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This facility is operated by Buru Energy who recently sold their gas fracking interests in the Kimberley to focus on oil production.

The Ungani facility is one of the industrial premises which was granted a 20 year pollution license under the Barnett Government without due process or consultation.

The facility includes oil production wells, oil holding tanks, pipes, and associated infrastructure for loading oil onto trucks and a turkey nest dam.

Methane that comes out of the wells with the oil is vented to the atmosphere without flaring.

One of the reasons we are taking a close look at this is it gives us an understanding of how gas fracking activities would be regulated if the industry is allowed to proceed here in Western Australia. So far, gas fracking exploration has been exempt from pollution control regulations, however if fracking wells go into production they will be required to have similar pollution licenses to the Ungani facility.

Our appeal raised a number of issues with the license including:

- The lack of any control or monitoring of emissions to air (including carbon pollution)
- The lack of any specific groundwater pollution limits and a requirement for groundwater monitoring only every three months
- The lack of any requirement for public reporting or disclosure of groundwater or air quality monitoring results, or any other environmental monitoring data

We had a constructive meeting with the Appeals Convener, however it appears there is little appetite from the regulator, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, to strengthen or improve the license conditions. The Department is arguing that stricter controls are not necessary because it is a low risk activity and that conditions are not needed because the facility is also regulated by the Department of Mining and Petroleum under separate legislation.

It won’t be a surprise that we don’t agree with this.

We do not believe that oil extraction from onshore wells in the Kimberley is a low risk activity. We also don’t believe it is adequate for the environmental regulator to rely on the Department of Mines and Petroleum - the same agency whose job is to promote oil and gas - to ensure our environment is protected. The DMP’s legislation is not designed to protect the environment, and there is no public release of information from the DMP on what environmental standards are put in place by that agency, or if those standards are being met.

The Minister for the Environment ultimately has to determine the appeal consistent with the legislation, however our appeal raised a number of systemic issues with environmental regulation which may not be addressed through this process. As part of the decision, the Minister may request a broader review of the way pollution licenses are drafted, or other policy changes.

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