Energy company AGL has breached its environment protection licence by failing to properly monitor emissions from a gas plant south-west of Sydney since 2009.
The coal seam gas processing plant at Rosalind Park, near Menangle, operated between 2009 and last year without continuous monitoring of nitrogen oxide emissions, as required by its licence.
The monitoring equipment apparently broke down in October 2009 due to ”vibration, contamination and high temperature”.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority is considering a proposal from AGL that it be subject to an ”enforceable undertaking” in relation to its emissions breaches – a process that would allow the company to avoid possible court proceedings and hefty fines.
AGL was fined $1500 last month for excessive nitrogen oxide emissions at the plant in the last three months of last year. But the failure to monitor emissions for almost four years before those breaches has the potential to attract much higher sanctions under environmental laws.
The EPA said it did not believe the emissions would have caused significant harm to the surrounding community. It would have raised nitrous oxide levels in the district by about 2 per cent. Most of the nitrogen oxide emissions in the region are thought to be from vehicle traffic.
Nitrogen oxides are generally non-toxic at low concentrations, though they are potent greenhouse gases and add to air pollution. They are a byproduct when coal seam gas is treated for sale.
Residents, including the Scenic Hills Association, urged the EPA to pursue court action against AGL.
”We think the government is irresponsibly trying to avoid the fact that it can’t manage this industry,” spokeswoman Jacqui Kirkby said. ”The breach is a total failure of the system to monitor this industry in the only large-scale producing coal seam gasfield in NSW that already operates under strict conditions of consent, unlike other parts of NSW.”
AGL said it had put new equipment in place this month and would be monitoring and publicly reporting its emissions from now on.
”In March, AGL also announced that as part of the new and expanded air and water monitoring program at Camden, the site would also become the first coal seam gas project in NSW to implement a fugitive methane emissions monitoring program,” a spokeswoman said.
EPA chief environmental regulator Mark Gifford said it was yet to decide what action to take against AGL.
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