Pilliga State Forest – The Story of the Bibblewindi Spill

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On june 25 2011 ’untreated saline water containing numerous hydrocarbons and heavy metals, leaked from a pipe going into the reverse osmosis plant at Bibblewindi in the Pilliga forest. At the time this site was operated by Eastern Star Gas of which Santos owned a 20.9% share in with an overall share of 55.9% in the Eastern Star Gas permits. This incident went unreported at the time, along with at least 16 other spills or leaks, from a series of about 30 ‘test wells’. Incidents included serious spills of saline water into woodlands and a creek, with kangaroos drowning in a water storage area, both of which were not reported. In November 2011 Santos bought out Eastern Star Gas and now has an 80% share in the Eastern Star Gas permits, with TRUenergy owning the other 20%. In January 2012 following a tip off to a radio station by a local grazier, Santos admitted there had been a spill which it estimated at 10,000L and tried to distance itself from the incident by saying that ‘the practices of the former owner, Eastern Star Gas, were not up to the standard when by which Santos operates’, even though it was the major shareholder of Eastern Star Gas. Santos was fined $52,000 for the incident, the maximum penalty for this type of environmental pollution being $1million, and claims to have spent $17 million on rehabilitation in the Pilliga since that time. Five years later, the site of the spill at Bibblewindi still is devoid of plant life. In 2014 Santos was fined a further $1500 for contamination of an aquifer caused by a leaking liner at it’s Bibblewindi plant, with Uranium levels detected 20 times higher than safe drinking water, 335 micrograms per litre, the guideline is 17 micrograms per litre. Two days later NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner signed a memorandum of understanding with Santos to speed up their project in the Pilliga. #pilligapush