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Bulga Coal fined for pollution spill

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The Land and Environment Court issued the fine to the Glencore Xstrata-owned Bulga Coal Management on Wednesday, and also ordered the company to pay the costs of the Environmental Protection Agency’s investigation and prosecution of the case.

Hunter Valley-based Bulga Coal Management has already spent $287,000 on the clean-up operation.

The incident was discovered by a Bulga Coal employee on October 9, 2011. 

Hundreds of litres of slurry leaked from a perforated T-piece in the tailings pipeline into a containment dam, and then flowed 250 metres along the nearby Nine Mile Creek bed.

The employee immediately took steps to stop the flow and contain the discharge.

Justice Nicola Pain said the incident ‘‘caused actual harm to the environment, which was minor, given the non-toxic discharge in a limited area within the mine site’’.

‘‘A clear message needs to be sent to other companies engaging in similar operations that positive steps must be taken to ensure water pollution does not occur,’’ Justice Pain said.

Pain also said that Bulga Coal Management had no prior convictions for environmental pollution, and that the company had taken precautions to ensure a similar incident will not occur again and was unlikely to reoffend.

Bulga Coal Management had initially pleaded not guilty to the offense, but later changed the plea to guilty.

Earlier this year the company was acquitted of failing to report the incident immediately.

The Court held that Bulga Coal Management’s duty to notify the EPA of the pollution incident was only triggered once it became “subjectively” aware that the pollution incident caused or threatened material harm to the environment, at which point Bulga did report the incident to the EPA.

Clean-up operations using “sucker trucks” began the day after the spill was discovered.

It was only after clean-up began that the EPA was notified, which was alleged to be in contravention of section 148(2) of the Protection of Environment Operations Act 1997:

Duty of person carrying on activity to notify
A person carrying on the activity must, as soon as practicable after the person becomes aware of the incident, notify the appropriate regulatory authority of the incident and all relevant information about it.

Image: Newcastle Herald

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