GAB carbon capture project fails to gain government approval

Sheep Central, May 27, 2024

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A CONTROVERSIAL plan to take waste CO2 from a power station and pump it into an aquifer of the Great Artesian Basin has failed to gain approval from the Queensland environment department.

Agriculture and environmental groups strongly opposed the plan from Glencore subsidiary Carbon Capture and Storage Company on the basis of it being a risk to one the country’s most extensive water sources for livestock and human consumption.

Today the Queensland environment department determined that it was not satisfied with CTSCo’s environmental impact statement.

The Department of Environment, Science and Innovation has determined the CTSCo Surat Basin Carbon Capture and Storage Project is not suitable to proceed due to potential impacts on groundwater resources in the Great Artesian Basin.

As Queensland’s environmental regulator, the department carefully considered the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, which involved a rigorous three-year assessment against strict regulatory requirements in the Environmental Protection Act 1994 and the Environmental Protection Regulation 2019.

The assessment found that the Precipice Sandstone aquifer in the Great Artesian Basin, where the project had proposed to inject captured CO2 for storage, is not a confined aquifer, which is a strict requirement of the regulation.

The assessment also found that CO2 injected into the aquifer could migrate, likely causing irreversible or long-term change to groundwater quality and environmental values if the project were to proceed.

This includes potential increased concentrations of contaminants including chloride, sulphate, salinity, various metals, and metalloids (including lead and arsenic).

Several submissions on the EIS confirmed that groundwater in the Precipice Sandstone holds environmental values, as it is used for agriculture, irrigation, and stock watering. 

The department’s final decision on the EIS acknowledges the importance of the Great Artesian Basin to multiple stakeholders and makes it clear that other carbon capture and storage projects will not be viable in the Great Artesian Basin.

Months of protesting and legal action from Queensland farm lobby group AgForce gained momentum in recent months with many politicians, including Queensland premier Steven Miles, denouncing the project – leading many to believe today’s decision was likely.

AgForce applied to the NFF Farmers Fighting Fund to bankroll the action, which was ultimately knocked back with the fighting believing the battle could be won through advocacy rather than through the courts.

The project was originally approved by the Federal environment department in 2022, when the Coalition was in power, which determined that it was not a matter of national environmental significance – a decision AgForce took to court arguing it was clearly a matter of environmental significance and more project were coming in behind Glencore.

The court hearing is due in August.

In response to today’s announcement, AgForce chief executive officer Michael Guerin said the organisation would still like to see the issue addressed at a Federal level.

“While we celebrate this State Government decision, our thoughts now immediately go to how to best protect the GAB into the future from such environmental threats,” Mr Guerin said.

“Protecting it properly can only be achieved through more robust Federal policy, with the current review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) a critical component of that.

“Another critical aspect for AgForce is for the Federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek to now use her power to recall the Glencore application for re-assessment. The previous Federal Government deemed this proposal as not captured by the ‘Matters of National Environmental Significance’ or MNES provisions of the EPBC Act – setting a dangerous precedent.  But the Minister has the power to review that.

“Otherwise, the precedent set under the current provisions of the Act will potentially allow other applications through or give space for a re-application by Glencore ahead of the promised reform of the Act itself.

“Should the Federal Minister for the Environment call the application back in to be reassessed, we would gladly acknowledge her leadership in protecting one of the natural wonders of the world.  Otherwise, we remain on track for the Federal Court on August 1 to seek a judicial review of that February 9, 2022, decision.

“In our view, that judicial review is critical to the future of the Great Artesian Basin and all that rely on it.”

Glencore disappointed with ‘misinformation campaign’

In response to the decision, Glencore said the Queensland Government had missed an opportunity with carbon capture and storage.

“The decision is disappointing and comes after a damaging misinformation campaign and political opportunism by multiple players,” the company said in a statement.

“The CTSCo project was a test case for carbon capture and storage in Qld and today’s decision highlights the Qld Government’s failure to reconcile conflicting legislative provisions to enable CCS project in Qld.

“With this decision the Qld Government has not effectively banned carbon capture and storage projects in Qld.”

Glencore said the decision is in direct opposition to the Federal Government’s support for carbon capture and storage. It said the decision puts emissions targets into question.

“If CCS is not available as an abatement option for industry it will have far reaching ramifications for the resources sector which provides jobs for thousands of Qlders and is the cornerstone of the state economy,” it said.

“It’s not up to the Qld Government to explain how it’s going to meet its ambitious emissions reduction targets in the absence of CCS technology for heavy industry – and ultimately, how much more that is going to cost every Queenslander.”

CCS needs to be in appropriate places, Littleproud

Nationals leader David Littleproud said he still supported CCS for the coal and gas industries, but thought it needed to be in more appropriate places.

“The Nationals fully support carbon sequestration projects as a method to support the coal and gas industries abate their emissions but only in the appropriate place and once there is confidence in the science. 

“The Great Artesian Basin is an important water source for farmers and communities in Queensland. It’s imperative we protect it and that proper, thorough assessments are undertaken for any sequestration project.

“While we support carbon capture storage, it has to be in the appropriate place. The technology is emerging and we support that, but it has to be done at an appropriate pace where we have confidence in the approval process.

“At the moment, the Queensland Government determines the process, despite projects involving national environmental assets that should also trigger, under the EPBC Act, the water trigger. We have a responsibility to protect the environment.”

Grainfed sector welcomes decision

The lotfeeding sector has welcomed the Queensland Government’s decision.

In making the determination, the Queensland Department of Environment, Science and Innovation confirmed ALFA’s concerns that CTSC’s proposal to inject liquid CO2 waste into the GAB presented an unacceptable risk to the integrity, safety, and security of Australia’s food production, ALFA said in a statement.

ALFA president Barb Madden said DESI’s assessment that the proposed project would likely lead to irreversible damage to groundwater quality through potential contamination and migration is affirmation of the concerns raised by ALFA and our members.

“With close to 50 percent of the feedlot industry’s national capacity relying on the GAB to care for our cattle, it was imperative that science prevailed, and the right decision was made,” Mrs Madden said.

ALFA said it had worked alongside many agricultural representative bodies, individual businesses and community representative groups to point out that the GAB provides an invaluable, safe and secure supply of water to numerous communities and agricultural enterprises.

“We applaud the Queensland Government’s rigorous assessment process of CTSC’s Environmental Impact Statement that has led to today’s decision.

“Today’s outcome is a step in the right direction for governments to prioritise water and food security. It sets an important precedent for future protections to be put in place to protect GAB water for agricultural and community use,” Mrs Madden said.

“Above all, today’s decision enables Australian lot feeders’ to continue to produce safe, high-quality grainfed beef to feed families in Australia and abroad.”

Calls for legislation to follow

Queensland Farmers’ Federation CEO Jo Sheppard said while the decision to reject the project was a step in the right direction, it was not enough, and that regulations must now be put in place immediately to protect the GAB.

“We know that there are currently two companies with exploration permits for CCS in the GAB and we know that other companies globally are looking at the GAB as a cheap way to conduct CCS at an industrial scale to manage their emissions,” Ms Sheppard said.

“In the absence of federal policy, the Queensland Government can and must now take a leadership role and put regulations in place to protect the Queensland component of the GAB from further CCS bids.”

QFF, alongside Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) and the Queensland Conservation Council (QCC), continue to call on the Miles government to enact provisions that will prevent further CCS project bids in water aquifers in the GAB from being put forward here in Queensland.

A delegation led by QFF to the Premier last month included representatives from the agriculture sector, rural communities, councils and conservationists to show a unified front in opposition to CCS in the GAB.

“We called on the Premier then, and we are calling on the Premier now, to put regulations in place as a matter of urgency to prioritise water security and protect this vital natural resource for generations to come,” Ms Sheppard said.

“The EIS decision is now known. The Premier must not delay taking action to respond to the concerns of the people of Queensland.”

QFF will continue discussions with the Premier and Queensland Government Ministers calling for immediate action to protect the future of the GAB.


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