Minister criticises GDF SUEZ

HAZELWOOD mine operator GDF SUEZ said it would not be drawn into an argument with government ministers about the delayed reporting of an ash spill on Tuesday.

The Environment Protection Authority said GDF SUEZ provided a full account of the 40,000 litre spill on Tuesday, but would be addressing the issue of reporting the incident two days later as part of its investigation.

EPA officers are inspecting the site to determine if licence conditions have been breached.

Environment, Climate Change and Water Minister Lisa Neville criticised the company for taking two days to report the incident to the authority in an interview with ABC Gippsland on Friday.

GDF SUEZ spokesman Trevor Rowe said it was cooperating fully with the EPA in its investigation.

Mr Rowe said it was a minor spill from an ash pond and saline water had been found at the neighbouring Energy Brix site.

“It’s salty water that has gone into a holding area and has been captured in the holding area at the Energy Brix site. It didn’t get into any waterways or public areas,” Mr Rowe said.

In response to Ms Neville’s criticism, he said he was not going to argue with ministers and the incident was reported in an appropriate manner.

“It appears there is some concern about how long it took, but it was reported to the EPA on Thursday and investigations are underway,” Mr Rowe said.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said he understood Hazelwood made efforts to contact the EPA earlier than Thursday and to “wait until we see the facts”.

Mr Chester said the Environment Minister had admitted there was minimal public health risk and no water escaped into the natural environment.

“I think the Environment Minister has more questions to ask herself… why has she gone public on this particular issue, undermining Hazelwood Power Station workers’ jobs?”

A spokesperson for Lisa Neville said the EPA would investigate GDF SUEZ’s failure to report the incident, which occurred on Tuesday.

“We support local industries and local jobs, but we expect all companies to be good corporate citizens,” the spokesperson said.

“The community has a right to know what is occurring in their backyard.”

Hot spot in Hazelwood mine

The Hazelwood ash spill has also raised criticism of GDF SUEZ’s reporting of a hot spot fire in October.

In the Thursday, 8 October edition of The Express, CFA District 27 operations manager Bill Johnstone said he was aware of a hot spot in the Hazelwood mine on Monday, 5 October.

GDF SUEZ later confirmed the hot spot occurred in the south-eastern batters of the mine, well away from the operating coal faces.

Environment, Climate Change and Water Minister Lisa Neville criticised the coal mine operator for not reporting the incident to the community on ABC Gippsland on Friday.

GDF SUEZ spokesman Trevor Rowe said hot spots were a part of day-to-day business.