Leak details under wraps

BHP Billiton has refused to give details about a ruptured pipeline and environmental damage from six years ago. Picture by Elle Borgwald. d424614
BHP Billiton has refused to give details about a ruptured pipeline and environmental damage from six years ago. Picture by Elle Borgwald. d424614

The line ruptured on June 18, 2008, and resulted in a discharge of ammonium sulphate and trace metals, which killed 14 trees along the pipeline route and sparked a Department of Environment and Conservation ” now the Department of Environment Regulation (DER) ” investigation.

Greens South Metropolitan MLC Lynn MacLaren called on the State Government to reveal the findings of the DER groundwater report in October, 2012, and raised the same concerns again in Parliament in June.

In both instances the State Government refused, citing Ministerial Statement 377 which it declined to elaborate on.

State Environment Minister Albert Jacob said the Baldivis Leak Detection System alarm notification was exposed to a higher than normal number of triggered alarms when the leak occurred, but no action was taken as the technician believed it was a false alarm.

Ms MacLaren said Mr Jacob’s repeated reluctance to hand over the report suggested its content may reveal worrying results, but she was more concerned with Mr Jacob’s claim that the alarm system was ignored for more than 24 hours.

‘This is a human error that has had potentially dangerous impacts and such errors should not be occurring when it comes to contaminated industrial waters spilling through leaky pipes into our environment,’ she said.

‘In this instance, neglecting to check a triggered alarm system resulted in 24 hours of effluent spill.

‘We must ensure that our environmental regulators are doing their job to protect our environment and enforce environmental protection laws.’

A DER spokesman told the Courier that it did not publish investigation reports, but said the DER had failed to ‘establish a sufficiently strong prima facie case to mount a prosecution for an offence under relevant environmental legislation’.

They also claimed the pipeline had been decommissioned, a claim not supported by a BHP Billiton Nickel West spokesman, who said the pipeline was replaced and was still operational.

BHP Billiton failed to confirm Mr Jacob’s claim, but said a number of improvements had been implemented to reduce the risk of a similar pipeline failure in the future.

Ms MacLaren said she would seek to gain access to the report via an FOI application and that ‘attempts to withhold what may be bad news may be futile’.