Govt stays tight-lipped on Curtis Island flaring probe

THE State Government has confirmed it is investigating recent flaring incidents on Curtis Island, although they wouldn't tell us any more than that "until the investigation is complete".

The investigation will include penalties for any breaches of the legislation and monitoring compliance, but also what the department described as "encouraging voluntary compliance with obligations".

It comes ahead of a meeting between the Department of Environment Heritage and Protection and the council today.

Unfortunately we've been told we can't attend that meeting, instead we'll have to rely on information being passed on afterwards.

The seven air quality monitoring stations around Gladstone are in "sensitive locations" which were installed long before the LNG plants, mostly during the 1990s.

We asked how effective the air quality stations are; and also if there were plans for additional stations, but EHP did not answer our questions.

We put the following questions (submitted by you, our readers) to the department:

1. The 3rd plant, the largest plant not yet in production, has no stack. Instead the company spent an extra $11M to ensure no flare and no black smoke for the people of Gladstone. Knowing this technology was available why didn't the State Govt insist this be a standard engineering requirement under General Licensing Conditions for all three plants?
The Environmental Authorities (EAs) of all three plants contain a set of outcomes that the proponent must achieve, but does not prescribe how the proponent will achieve them. The onus is on the proponent to do its due diligence and ensure that it can comply with all conditions that the department sets.

2. The other two plants can be retrofitted with this engineering technology to get rid of the stacks and the visual pollution so why isn't the State Govt issuing an order to that effect?
The past flaring events resulting in the release of black smoke are currently being investigated and the department is not in a position to comment on this any further until that investigation is complete.

3. Even a simple Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has a tickbox for visual pollution - who signed off on these stacks when alternate technology was available?
We set environmental outcomes in the EAs and it is up to the proponent to determine how it can best achieve these outcomes.

4. These flaring incidents are not and will not be uncommon events - rather common events. If the 3 points above are ignored and not acted on what does the State Govt intend doing in way of compensating the people of Gladstone. This town will be a ghost town. No-one will want to live here and tourism will also suffer. Not a great sight for the intended cruise ships coming to town!
Refer to Q2

5. This would never be tolerated anywhere else, especially in Sydney. So why are the people of Gladstone deemed collateral damage?
Flare stacks are commonly used at many types of industrial facilities, including in built up cities and ports.
Across the Gladstone region, the State Government operates a network of seven air quality monitoring stations to monitor contaminant levels at sensitive places such as residences.
Analysis of data from this network has not detected any exceedances in air quality standards during flaring events. Therefore, the department does not have any environmental or health concerns based on monitoring results to date.
Live air quality data is available to the public and can be viewed at

6. If coal seam gas is pure methane as the industry claims, how come toxic black smoke pours out of these gas flares and why aren't they clean burning?
Methane gas is not the only gas that is fed to the flare in LNG production. The smoke emissions observed during the commissioning of two of the LNG Plants is attributable to refrigerants used to cool production gas. The gas must pass through a flame due to the high flammability of the products. Smoke can be caused by the incomplete combustion of the feed gas. Members of the public concerned about the flares can contact EHP's pollution hotline on 1300 130 372 or visit to view live air monitoring data.

7. Has EHP investigated flaring incidents before? If so, please detail.
EHP is currently investigating incidents related to flaring activity on Curtis Island. Until such time as the investigations are completed, EHP is not in a position to provide further details.

8. How is such as investigation carried out?
As the Queensland Government's environmental regulator, the department's approach to ensuring compliance with its legislation is to: educate individuals, industry and governments about the laws and how to comply with them, encourage voluntary compliance with obligations, monitor compliance, respond to breaches of the legislation with consistent and proportionate enforcement action.

9. You've mentioned the air monitoring stations yet none of those are on Curtis Island and apparently there's been no adverse readings despite the photographic evidence we have provided on numerous occasions showing the black smoke pouring from the flares. How can EHP be assured readings from these stations are useful when it comes to the flares? Are there any plans for additional stations?
The locations of the State Government air quality monitoring stations have been strategically chosen to monitor contaminant levels at sensitive places such as residences.

10. If the proponent is responsible for ensuring it meets expectations, but is also responsible for reporting to EHP to prove it is compliant, how can you be sure the information provided by the proponent is accurate?
An Environmental Authority (for which flaring activities are regulated) imposes conditions to reduce or avoid potential environmental impacts.
People and businesses who have specific obligations under legislation administered by EHP have a responsibility to manage their activities lawfully.
It is an offence in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act 1994 to provide false or misleading documents and information to the administering authority (EHP). It is also an offence to contravene a condition of an environmental authority. Significant penalties may apply for both of these offences.

11. Do the stacks meet requirements for the visual pollution element of their EIS?
EIS requires the proponent to address impacts to environmental values (which include visual amenity) with regard to the release of contaminants capable of causing environmental harm.
EHP is currently investigating incidents related to flaring activity on Curtis Island. Until such time as the investigations are completed, EHP is not in a position to provide further details.

If you've got any other questions you'd like us to put to the department contact reporter Helen Spelitis on 4970 3019.

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