Carbon capture project rejected over groundwater fears

Fraser Barton |

The Great Artesian Basin is one of the largest underground freshwater reservoirs in the world.
The Great Artesian Basin is one of the largest underground freshwater reservoirs in the world.

A controversial plan to inject tonnes of wastewater into Australia’s Great Artesian Basin has been rejected amid fears it would cause “irreversible” change.

Mining giant Glencore’s CTSCo had planned to capture carbon dioxide from the coal-fired Millmerran power station in southern Queensland, liquefy it and store it 2.3km underground.

They wanted to pump more than 300,000 tonnes of wastewater into the Precipice Sandstone aquifer near Moonie, west of Brisbane, in a three-year trial.

Glencore argued no damage would have been caused by injecting the waste product into the aquifer, a body of rock that holds groundwater.

The multinational said it would have been isolated from other aquifers that were tapped for agricultural or human use in the basin, which is a water source for 180,000 inland people.

However, the Department of Environment, Science and Innovation on Friday knocked back the project after considering its environmental impact statement (EIS).

Glencore HQ in Switzerland
Glencore argued that injecting wastewater wouldn’t damage the Precipice Sandstone aquifer. (AP PHOTO)

“The assessment found that the Precipice Sandstone aquifer … is not a confined aquifer, which is a strict requirement of the regulation,” the department said in a statement.

“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.

“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.”

Glencore said the decision was disappointing, accusing the Queensland government of effectively banning carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects in the state. 

“It’s a missed opportunity for Queensland and sends mixed messages on emissions reductions to industry who are looking to invest in low emission technologies, including CCS,” it said in a statement.

“CCS uses proven technology and is in operation elsewhere in Australia and around the world today.”

Conservation, agriculture, local government and farming stakeholders welcomed the government’s decision, as did Katter’s Australian Party. 

AgForce, Queensland Farmers Federation and the Local Government Association of Queensland want a joint state and federal moratorium to stop any further proposals.

“So, while we celebrate this state government decision, our thoughts now immediately go to how to best protect the (basin) into the future from such environmental threats,” AgForce CEO Mike Guerin said. 

The Queensland Conservation Council argued the proposal was a PR stunt by Glencore which would have put the basin at serious risk.

Nationals leader David Littleproud said he previously moved a federal act amendment so the commonwealth and Queensland government could undertake appropriate assessments of carbon capture projects.

He said the Nationals supported carbon capture projects but only in a suitable location.

“The Great Artesian Basin is an important water source for farmers and communities in Queensland,” he said.

“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 basin intersects four Australian states and territories, with about 70 per cent of its area sitting beneath Queensland.

It holds one of the largest underground freshwater reservoirs in the world, with an estimated 65 million gigalitres.

AAP