Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

EPA investigations find no harm to the environment from AGL’s Waukivory Pilot Project and recommend additional monitoring requirements

Media release: 19 May 2015

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has not found any evidence of harm to the environment or pollution of waters from its investigations after BTEX was detected in flowback water at AGL’s coal seam gas operations near Gloucester in January. 

EPA Chief Environmental Regulator Mark Gifford said AGL’s operations were suspended on 27 January 2015 and the EPA conducted a thorough investigation that involved a team approach, with hydrogeological, water quality and analytical chemistry experts. 

“The EPA’s investigation into the detection of BTEX in flowback water examined if AGL breached its environment protection licence conditions or the Protection of the Environment Operations Act. The EPA has determined that no breaches occurred. 

“The EPA has found no evidence that AGL added BTEX to fracture stimulation fluids and found that the BTEX detected was likely to be naturally occurring,” Mr Gifford said. 

“The EPA’s investigation also considered if pollution of waters did or was likely to occur. 

“Flowback water extracted after hydraulic fracturing was taken to a licensed treatment facility for treatment and disposal. We found no extracted flowback water had entered the environment at Gloucester. 

“It is likely that the fracturing process has led to naturally occurring BTEX being detected in flowback water at levels above background levels. However, the EPA also found that it is unlikely that BTEX travelled outside of the fractured part of the coal seam.” 

Mr Gifford said the EPA reflects on all of its investigatory outcomes and looks for opportunities to improve how we regulate.

“From this investigation the EPA has determined there is room to strengthen AGL’s environment protection licence conditions and new conditions regarding the monitoring and reporting of BTEX chemicals are being added as a result.

“Additionally, the future management of flowback water will need to consider the presence of BTEX chemicals to ensure appropriate handling and disposal at a licensed waste facility.”

In addition to the BTEX investigation the EPA has also completed investigations into the detection of the hydraulic fracturing additives monoethanolamine borate (MEB – a thickening agent) and Tetrakis hydroxymethyl phosphonium sulphate (Tolcide – an algaecide) in ground and surface water monitoring results undertaken in 2014.

“While the levels of both Tolcide and MEB were extremely low and unlikely to pose any risk to human health or the environment, it was important that the detections were investigated by the EPA to verify the accuracy of AGL’s monitoring and reporting.

“In relation to this investigation the EPA found a technical breach of the environment protection licence condition L3.4. This condition requires that there be no detection of MEB and Tolcide in groundwater samples.

“This investigation demonstrated that MEB and Tolcide (or their breakdown products, which are what is monitored in the case of Tolcide) can occur naturally and it is unlikely that the detections were a result of hydraulic fracturing activities.

“It also found immediate reporting of any detection of fracture stimulation additives and groundwater height variation would provide better protection for the environment than a strictly “non-detect” limit.” This will be reflected in the licence.”

While the EPA acknowledges that it has taken some time to complete these investigations, it was important that the matters were thoroughly investigated. The EPA will be meeting with the community to discuss the results of the investigation.

AGL also requires approval from the Division of Resources and Energy before recommencing operations. The EPA will review the results of the DRE investigation to determine whether any further changes to AGL’s licence conditions are required.

A fact sheet outlining the EPA’s investigation is available on the EPA website coal seam gas page here (under the heading Community access to information).


Contact: Public Affairs

Page last updated: 19 May 2015