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Clive Palmer’s nickel refinery pumped toxic waste into Great Barrier Reef park

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef. Photograph: Brandon D Cole/Corbis


Powered by article titled “Clive Palmer’s nickel refinery pumped toxic waste into Great Barrier Reef park” was written by Oliver Milman, for on Wednesday 12th February 2014 04.39 UTC

A nickel refinery owned by Clive Palmer has released toxic wastewater into the Great Barrier Reef marine park on several occasions despite being forbidden from doing so, government documents have revealed.

The Queensland Nickel refinery, located at Yabulu, 20km north of Townsville, made unauthorised discharges of nitrogen-laden water into the world heritage area in 2009 and then again in 2011. The latter incident pumped 516 tonnes of nitrogen into the marine park.

Documents obtained under freedom of information by the North Queensland Conservation Council show the state government considered there to be “ongoing problems with capacity of the water management system” at Yabulu.

Concerns that heavy rain may cause pools of toxic wastewater to overflow into the surrounding environment led Queensland Nickel to request the water be pumped into the Great Barrier Reef park in March 2009 and then in January 2010.

These requests were rejected by the park authority, which demanded the outflow pipe be removed within two years. But the discharges occurred anyway. Despite this, no civil or criminal proceedings were taken against the company.

In June 2012, Queensland Nickel said it intended to discharge wastewater into the park continuously for at least three months, even though the water was understood to have nitrogen levels “at least 100 times the allowed maximum level as well as heavy metals and other contaminants”.

The park authority said the contaminated water exceeded guidelines for ammonia and several other metals. In a briefing, it said this discharge on to the reef “would be similar to the daily discharge of treated sewage from a city of seven million people”.

Internal government emails indicate Queensland Nickel’s displeasure with the park authority’s stance, with the agency considered “obstructionist”.

According to a marine park authority briefing, the company had “threatened a compensation claim of $6.4bn should the GBRMPA intend to exert authority over the company’s operations”.

The mining magnate and MP Clive Palmer purchased the refinery from BHP in 2009, with the contentious outflow pipe placed 2km offshore before the declaration of the Great Barrier Reef as a world heritage area in 1981.

The refinery produces about 30,000 tonnes of nickel and 1,500 tonnes of cobalt a year and employs about 1,000 people. Palmer has federal approval to increase these amounts substantially and the government documents show that Queensland Nickel queried whether this approval exempted the company from marine park authority regulations.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Palmer said his business had an “excellent” environmental track record.

“We didn’t breach any environmental laws, there was no action taken against us over that particular thing you’re talking about,” he told a questioner. “It wasn’t true. It was found that that wasn’t true, we didn’t breach any environmental laws and that’s just a furphy. It’s another beat-up.

“The Queensland Department of the Environment just renewed our licence for another three years and that’s the truth of the matter. But I’m sure that Campbell Newman will have a go at me because I object to people being thrown in solitary confinement for 22 hours when they haven’t committed a crime.”

Andrew Powell, Queensland’s environment minister, said Queensland Nickel hadn’t used the pipeline since 2011, when Labor was in power.

“We are not responsible for what has occurred in the past, but what we are doing is ensuring from here on in, since we have come into government that Queensland Nickel meets their environmental responsibilities,” he said.

“They have until 1 November to raise that wall (which prevents spills from the toxic pools) and if not there will be significant consequences.”


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