Santos has been very clear that the facilities at Bibblewindi constructed by the previous owner did not meet company standards.
Santos always acknowledged, including in media releases and community presentations, concerns about the integrity of the Bibblewindi ponds and the need for new water storage and treatment facilities at Leewood.
The water treatment facilities at the site were shut down in December 2011, shortly after Santos took over the operations from Eastern Star Gas. Santos continues to undertake rehabilitation on the areas around the Bibblewindi ponds. This will include transferring water currently stored in the ponds to the new Leewood facility, allowing Santos to centralise the water treatment facilities and fully rehabilitate the areas around the existing facilities.
The Leewood facility, which is located outside the Pilliga, is currently under construction and incorporates purpose built, double-lined ponds to ensure a high-level of integrity is maintained in the storage of both produced water and brine.
To date, Santos has installed a network of monitoring bores at the Bibblewindi site to assess water quality within the shallow water table underlying the ponds. This ongoing monitoring highlighted localised areas with elevated levels of salinity and naturally occurring minerals including arsenic, barium, nickel, strontium and uranium. Santos reported these findings to the relevant regulatory agencies, including the local council.
It is important to note the localised groundwater where these elevated concentrations were found is very limited in area and water volume and is not used for agriculture, stock irrigation, human consumption or domestic purposes. The localised water sampled is not connected with regional aquifers.
The detected concentration levels are below those found in surrounding soils. The reported levels of uranium are well below national ANZECC guidelines for freshwater ecosystems. They pose no risk to people or the adjacent environment.
Santos has committed to the community that we will operate to the highest standard and that requires construction of the new water treatment facilities. This will be the best solution from a long term environmental perspective and is a major component of our Pilliga rehabilitation.