Xstrata gets off pollution spill charge

XSTRATA’S Bulga coalmine has been acquitted of failing to report a pollution incident within a reasonable amount of time at its Broke complex in 2011.

Hundreds of litres of dirty water leaked from a faulty pipe on October 9, 2011, at the mine, which was run by Bulga Coal Management as part of Xstrata’s Hunter coal operations.

The water leaked into a dam, which overflowed into nearby Nine Mile Creek.

The creek was dry at the time, but the ‘‘tailings’’ flowed about 250metres along the creek bed, the Land and Environment Court heard recently.

Mine workers noticed the spill on October 9, which was a Sunday, and reported it to their superiors before the incident was reported to a pollution hotline on the Monday about 11am.

As well as being charged in relation to the leak, the Environment Protection Authority charged Bulga Coal Management with failing to report the incident within a reasonable time.

The maximum penalty for the offence is a $1million fine plus $120,000 for each day the incident is not reported.

The mine pleaded not guilty and argued that it reported the incident as soon as staff had assessed the incident and decided that it needed to be reported.

The mine then spent $287,000 cleaning up the spill, including the use of ‘‘sucker trucks’’ at the creek.
Justice Nicola Pain dismissed the charge and stated that the EPA had failed to prove the offence beyond reasonable doubt.

She noted that this was the first prosecution of its type since the law was introduced in 1997 and that the law had since been changed to state that an incident must be reported ‘‘immediately’’  instead of ‘‘within a reasonable time’’.

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