CarbonNet, as project managers of Victoria’s carbon capture & storage project, have just met their first major obstacle that pits community against their legal responsibility.

The recent 3D Marine Seismic Survey (MSS) testing for carbon storage site suitability off the Ninety Mile Beach area in Gippsland now has legal and cost implications for the community and project managers that WERE NOT FORESEEN by regulators in development of the Environmental Plan (EP).
The MSS was conducted during February 2018 in Commonwealth and Victorian waters located between 1 and 13 km from the shoreline off the township of Golden Beach, midway along the Ninety Mile Beach between Loch Sport and Seaspray in south Gippsland.

‘The completed EP was submitted to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) and the Earth Resources Regulation (ERR) branch of the DEDJTR for assessment and acceptance. The EP was accepted by both regulators in December 2017.’

To appreciate how irresponsible the ERR regulator, CarbonNet project managers, RPS seismic surveyors and numerous other so called responsible stakeholders were is to understand that the seismic survey was occurring 1km from the shoreline in very shallow waters with little or no available data as to the effects on the human settlement and dune system. What was worst is that even as the survey operators were informed of vibration damage and health concerns, they chose to do nothing about it.

As the survey boat, Polaris, came into shallow waters during the February survey the sonic booms caused physical symptoms and distress to residents and their pets and property damage to numerous structures from the vibrations.

However, on February 15, 2018 a CarbonNet director spoke on ABC Gippsland Radio stating the vibration produced, ‘less than typical traffic noise and road vibration’ and that the onshore issues were ‘consistent with our expectations when we were planning the survey.’ But nowhere in the EP was the close vicinity to shore for the seismic survey ever considered a potential risk.
In waters so shallow and so close to shore, what part of an environmental plan (or other), is a person accorded protection rights from marine seismic survey impacts. Likewise, where was the onshore physical environment (dunes) given any consideration for potential impact to their stability? See Fate of Dunes page

Our State and Federal taxes contributed to the cost of this project and our State taxes will be used to compensate for the impacts because the stakeholder process & methodology did not identify all the risks.

Chapter 7 of the EP was concerned with the Environmental Impact and Risk Assessment but the only connection to human settlement related to atmospheric emissions from diesel causing potential temporary negative impacts to air quality. Beyond that, was the evaluation of risk to individual swimmers and divers on the physiological effects of underwater sound and the social nuisance to tourists during survey times.

The failings that our committee have highlighted SHOULD have significant implications for future state management of risk analysis assessments for the responsible State regulator of Earth Resources and Victorian State Minister for Resources. NOPSEMA noted,

…Parts of the survey extended in areas closer to the shoreline, which are Victorian State waters. As advised previously the regulator for the State waters is the Victorian State Government Minister for Resources.…NOPSEMA has identified no breaches of the stringent requirements in place for the activity within its jurisdiction, including those required to prevent unacceptable environmental impacts. As such, no further regulatory action is proposed to be taken regarding this matter

Our committee will forward a letter of concern to CarbonNet seeking a response on how such an oversight could have occurred.

The Scope of the Environmental Plan includes a description of:

  • The nature of the activity (location, layout, operational details);
  • Stakeholder consultation activities;
  • The environment affected by the activity;
  • Environmental impacts and risks (including emergency incidents);
  • Mitigation and management measures;
  • Environmental performance objectives, standards and measurement criteria;
  • The implementation strategy to ensure that the environmental impacts and risks are managed in a systematic manner; and
  • Reporting arrangements.

The following sections of the EP are what CarbonNet, under the auspice of DEDJTR Vic, need to improve on.

4.1. Stakeholder Consultation Objectives for the MSS were not in line with best practice and new key learnings need to be incorporated in engagement programs for future MSS and shared worldwide for future reference data.

4.4.1. Engagement Approach is not in line with the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) spectrum, which is considered best practice for stakeholder engagement to inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower.

6. The Impact and Risk Assessment Methodology is flawed. Accordingly, the Risk Assessment Approach Victorian Government Departments use to risk management is either non-compliant with the numerous Victorian Acts and Frameworks or the guidelines are ineffective. Therefore effective governance by CarbonNet cannot be achieved.

A future risk cannot be identified to provide the appropriate assessment and assign control measure if the same methodological framework is used.

Subsequently, Risk Identification (6.3), Determining Likelihood of Risk (6.4.1.), Determining Consequence of Risk (6.4.2.) and Determining Risk Rating (6.4.3.) cannot be correctly determined.

The consequence would then have the possible impact and the extent the risk/event as unrateable on DEDJTR’s framework which covers,

  • strategy
  • service delivery
  • reputation,
  • finance
  • legal and legislative
  • safety and wellbeing of staff and visitors
  • people and culture (people in this context is DEDJTR staff)
  • environment

So, if the risk is unrateable than DEDJTR cannot determine Risk Evaluation (6.5);

of the ‘environmental impacts and risks for the project, including control measures used to reduce the impacts and risks of the activity to As Low As Reasonably Possible (ALARP) and an acceptable level. This must include impacts and risks arising directly or indirectly from all activity operations (i.e., planned events) or potential emergency or incident conditions (i.e., incident events).

This committee exists to ensure transparency and accountability. All environment actions pose a risk. Why something as obvious as seismic blasting 1km from the shoreline did not hit the radar is the big question!