Who is our watchdog?
Active groups from all over Victoria against mining expansion into populated areas have been constantly lobbying Government that our laws and regulatory frameworks are totally inadequate when it comes to protecting communities from the environmental, health and economic risks and consequences that will occur with any mining development.
The focus of this webpage concerns ongoing incidents that have been occurring at Esso's Longford Gas Plant from Nov. 2012. Background story of 2 million litre crude oil spill here
We exist because of past & current poor planning decisions by government for:
- industry and their facility expansions including mines with a total disregard for existing environmental triggers
- resource industry sector development allowing favouritism for short term gains over long term impacts
We are justified in our campaign to lobby government for mining reform because of significant ‘incidents’ leading to public health, economic and environmental impacts caused by:
- Poor government monitoring of industry
- Lack of compliance by industry to licence conditions
- Lack of enforcement by government for breaches of licence conditions
- Lack of transparency with the public to access relevant information
In regards to the first significant event at the Esso Longford Gas & Oil Plant in Gippsland Nov. 2012, EPA’s management could be, at best, described as incompetent, ineffectual and farcical.
One of our greatest concerns has been the public health issue with consequential environmental degradation of the surrounding land and potential for significant toxic chemical exposure to persons and livestock as a result of mining processing in populated areas.
This has occurred with both EPA and Esso aware of the issue, yet not one government authority has taken responsibility for assisting the impacted neighbours with their health concerns. Interestingly though, in COM's objection to the planning permit put forward for Esso's new proposed Gas Conditioning plant, COM asked:
Will EPA and Esso be required to inform council if and when an incident could have the potential to impact any member of the community and experience significantly elevated ambient levels of air toxics with the estimated exposure (long and short term) to these air toxic(s)
Esso's reply via Wellington Shire Council in March 2013 states:
Esso is not required to inform Wellington Shire Couincil of near misses or incidents; however, for incidents associated with the release of air emmissions, depending on the nature of the release, Esso is required to report to one or more of the following agencies:
- Victorian Department of Human Services
In the event of an incident that may impact the local community, Esso will notify the appropriate agency / emergency service for the incident. This may include notification to the Wellington Shire Council where that is appropriate.
This is where the cover-up theory gains momentum:
- Esso had stated in initial ABC radio reports that they were not aware that there was even a crude spill for 3-4 days - IT WAS 2 MILLION LITRES and they expect us to believe that
- Esso plant operatives, at the start, admitted major spill and major spike in benzene levels with workers having to wear protective safety clothing and breathing apparatus
- then parent company, Exxon, becomes involved with spokesman, Chris Welbury, also admitting spill with benzene release - go to background story for news article links
- We know that EPA had not been contacted within prescribed time-frame but then all of a sudden they were contacted within 24hrs of the spill
- Yet, EPA did not visit the site for an assessment until 4 weeks later (a volatile chemical spill and they do not investigate for one whole month)
Here is EPA's reply response to COM over the crude discharge and assessment of amount of detectable benzene emissions:
- Regarding the incident in November 2012 that resulted in a discharge of crude oil to Esso Longford's north pond, independent monitoring of the benzene emissions from that incident showed that levels were very low at the worksite (50 times below exposure limits) and would have been extremely low at the nearest house. Subsequent volatile organic compound (VOC) monitoring at the boundary of the site has shown non-detectable levels of VOCs. While we were unable to verify offsite odour impacts to a level that would allow penalties to apply, on the basis that the incident would likely have caused such an impact we have issued a notice for the company to undertake remedial actions to reduce the risk of reoccurrence and abate odour from the north pond. -
They don't state here that these readings were assessed and recorded one month after the event. For EPA and Esso/Exxon to refer potential health concerns to any relevant body would admit that there was a significant release of toxics emissions. And we know that it is not in their best interest to do that. But to have our own Environmental Protection Agency appear to be complicit in this sorry saga is an absolute disgrace.
- Latest EPA reply 30/1/13 which is still not good enough
As usual, the Coalition Government, at the time, did not take the issue seriously.
Apparently our laws are effective and appropriate.
But for those laws to work (in this case, EPA’s statutory powers are adequate) requires human intervention. This is where the system breaks down because it is all dependent on Industry operating responsibly, EPA needed to have adequate resources, EPA needed to have proper protocols for risk management and EPA needed to act with integrity.
Because this didn't happen, 5 months later in April 2013 ESSO had their 5th significant incident at the Esso Longford Gas & Oil Plant and the precious environmental laws, again, failed a group of neighbours.
No one made ESSO and EPA accountable.
Victoria continues to have a major crossover of jurisdiction, ineffectual or non-existent environmental protection and protocols and compliance that, simply, do not exist.
Mining development, processing and production is covered under five different types of legislation:
Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) examined what occurred at the Longford plant, what was Esso's obligations under existing legislation to report an incident, their duty of care to neighbouring landowners as well as EPA's role, obligation and capability to manage an incident.
The following was EDO's initial response to Community Over Mining's concern 19/12/2012
Petroleum or Mineral Resource Acts are just about the licence & extraction of a resource and do not cover processing.
The Longford Gas and Oil Processing Plant comes under the Environment Protection Act 1970, section 20
Esso are in breach twice under their licencing agreement which they have continually done according to their annual compliance report, that is - offensive odour outside their boundary and not immediately notifying EPA of non-compliance.
There is a potential third breach under discharge in the category of total volatile organic compounds allowed to be discharged into the atmosphere.
For this more serious offence of discharge Esso would have to had breached atmosphere emissions of eleven and half thousand units of volatile organic compounds. Penalty is maximum 2,400 units which is approx $300,000.
We will be requesting data as they are aware when there have been benzene spikes and information about when sensors in the pipe network failed to allow crude to spill.
The problem with EPA and the Act is the issue of enforcing non-compliance which we know they are not doing.
The concern for the communities living near mining and processing infrastructure is; if Earth Resources, WorkSafe Victoria and EPA are ineffectual watchdogs and not ensuring compliance and protection of the environment and public - WHO IS?
- Esso make up their own rules
- EPA have no environmental credentials
- Government bureaucrats are self-serving.
This is why communities need powers and protocols to report breaches because Victoria's Environmental Laws and the ineffectual taxpayer funded agencies sure as hell aren't doing it.
Ultimately, the responsibility lies with government. They made the laws so they should enforce the law.
So, what went wrong at Longford.
Will government show the public what protocols should have occurred or will they say Esso have followed correct procedures yet we have community members with distressing symptoms currently going through tests to ensure they have not been poisoned.
As it stands now there is still no dept/authority that will stand up and take responsibility for impacts on public health as a result of toxic pollutant exposure.
And what of the clay lined waste water ponds that ESSO use without any protective lining potentially allowing leeching into the soil. Have they been compromised with the crude leak?
If there is a cover-up by government and Esso, as we suspect has happened, the government are condoning big business to operate outside of the law.