EPA fines AGL Macquarie $15,000 for fly ash spill

AGL Macquarie Pty Ltd (AGL Macquarie), which operates the Bayswater Power Station near Muswellbrook, has been fined $15,000 by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) after a discharge of fly ash into Bayswater Creek.

On 21 December 2015, AGL Macquarie advised the EPA that a pipeline used to transfer fly ash from Bayswater Power Station to Ravensworth mining complex had partially failed. The EPA’s inspection on 21 December 2015 and subsequent investigation found that the environmental harm was minimal with a relatively small volume of fly ash released.

EPA Manager for the Hunter Region, Adam Gilligan, said AGL Macquarie responded quickly to the spill by stopping the flow of ash and arranging for the clean-up of Bayswater Creek.

“AGL Macquarie’s swift response has likely minimised the environmental impact in this instance, however this is the third incident involving inadequate environmental controls at the site in 2016. As a result, the penalty notice has been determined as an appropriate regulatory response,” Mr Gilligan said.

Fly ash is one of the combustion products from coal-fired power stations. It is composed of the fine particles that are driven out of the boiler with the flue gases. The fly ash is collected and then disposed of in ash dams, although some is used in the cement industry.

Mr Gilligan said it is important to manage fly ash carefully because spillages can cause impacts on the environment, including impacts within creek and stream systems. 

“These impacts can include the smothering of aquatic environments from the ash and impacts from the release of contaminants such as salt and suspended and dissolved metals,” he said.

In addition to the $15,000 fine, the EPA has issued an Official Caution to AGL Macquarie in relation to the incident on 21 December 2015 for not operating equipment (the ash transfer line) in a proper and efficient manner.

Mr Gilligan said the EPA would consider imposing a Pollution Reduction Program on AGL Macquarie’s Environment Protection Licence.

“To prevent this type of incident in the future, the EPA understands that AGL is considering installing a leak detection system as well as secondary containment structures for the areas of the pipeline that cross sensitive areas. The EPA will consider imposing these measures in a legally binding Pollution Reduction Program,” Mr Gilligan said.

Penalty notices and Official Cautions are among the tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance. Other measures include formal warnings, licence conditions, notices and directions, mandatory audits, enforceable undertakings, legally binding pollution reduction programs and prosecutions.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/legislation/prosguid.htm.