Desalination Plants

18 Jun 2008 archivespeech

This speech is to move that the Environment, Resources and Development Committee inquire into the environmental impacts of the proposed desalination plants at Port Stanvac and Port Bonython.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:32): I move:

That the Environment, Resources and Development Committee inquire into the environmental impacts of the proposed desalination plants at Port Stanvac and Port Bonython, and in particular—

1. the introduction of additional salts and chemicals into the marine environment;

2. the adequacy of tidal movements to disperse brine and chemicals;

3. the potential impact on a range of marine flora and fauna;

4. the potential impact on commercial and recreational fishing sectors;

5. the potential impact of contamination leachate from the location; and

6. any other matter. Essentially, I believe that this referral to the Environment, Resources and Development Committee is necessary because a number of concerns have been brought to our attention by the community in that the process the government is undertaking with the change of use at the Port Stanvac site has not been given enough scrutiny.

The first issue is that of contamination. It is really an unknown quantity, although we have been told that the contamination is being managed adequately and so forth. I note that the Co operative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) is carrying out an extensive project in relation to the contamination there. I think the fact that this CRC has been brought in is an indication that there is significant contamination that needs to be addressed at that site. People who have been familiar with the site over the years will tell you about the sorts of practices that used to take place, which were acceptable for those times but which I think most of us would agree are not acceptable now, and we passed a site contamination act through this parliament to deal with such issues. A picture was published in the Messenger newspapers that was obtained from one of the government environment agencies. It shows a contaminant plume on the regional groundwater table at sea level, and clearly there is some danger of its seeping through.

Petrochemicals are particularly nasty, and they are very well known to cause cancer. One of the scientists I have spoken to told me about the sanctuary area that was set aside adjacent to Dyson Road. There were native animals, such as kangaroos, emus and so forth, but they had significant genetic defects, so the animals are no longer kept there, as they would probably be pinged by the RSPCA for cruelty to animals if they did so. There has been a long history of very poor practices on the site. As I said, we passed the site contamination bill, so I think it is incumbent on this government to make sure that Mobil does the right thing by the community and properly cleans up the site. This leads me to another issue on which

I think the government might have jumped the gun. If you announced that you wanted to use a contaminated site for another purpose, but you also indicated that you wanted it cleaned up, I think you would weaken your bargaining position. However, I think that is probably an argument for another day. So, there is contamination, and I think most people suspect that it is quite significant. I now come to the matter of a desalination plant. One of the issues we will look at (and questions have been asked in this place) is the government's claim that it is carbon neutral—a claim I think that is probably farcical. However, last year I visited Israel as part of a water trade mission. It is well recognised that the Israelis are particularly experienced in the construction and management of desalination processes. I have been provided with a copy of an article entitled 'The footprint of a desalination process on the environment.' In the abstract, it states:

Processes of desalination of sea water are intended to reduce the deficits in potable water both at present and in the future. And, yes, I think we agree that that is a problem in South Australia, and that is why we support one.

The article continues:

Water desalination processes offer various environmental benefits (related to sanitation, water softening, quality of sewage effluents), but the process is also accompanied by adverse environmental effects. These effects can be minimised by the appropriate planning. Most of the effects anticipated would then affect the local environment in the vicinity of the desalination plants. Desalination may have an impact on five domains: the use of the land, the groundwater, the marine environment, and noise pollution, and finally the intensified use of energy. The impact on land use is caused by the use of the coastal land for the purpose of building factories, thus converting the coastal area into an industrial zone instead of an area for tourism and recreation.

That is not the case here, as it is already industrial. The article continues:

The impact on groundwater mainly occurs if pipelines carrying seawater or brine are laid above an aquifer. It also occurs in the case of feed drilling. In such cases, the aquifer may be damaged either by infiltration of saline water or by disturbances of the water table. The impact on the marine environment takes place mainly in the vicinity of the concentrated brine discharge pipe. Even though the concentrated brine contains natural marine ingredients, its high specific weight causes it to sink to the sea floor without prior mixing. In addition, chemicals, which are administered to the water in the pre-treatment stages of the desalination process, may harm the marine life in the vicinity of the pipe's outlet. The actual placement of the discharge pipe may also damage sensitive marine communities.

It talks about noise pollution, which is probably not an issue, because it is not directly located in a residential area. The article goes on:

A desalination plant may also affect the environment indirectly, such as via the intensified use of energy by the plant. This increased use of energy results in an increased production of electricity by the respective power station, which in turn results in increased air pollution, pollution by coal dust, thermal pollution, etc. The severity of these effects differs in different areas according to...

So it continues. Its conclusion is that environmental awareness and preliminary planning can minimise the adverse effects of the desalination process on the environment. That was published in 2002. Some of our local scientists have raised concerns about this particular location because of the lack of tidal movement, particularly in summer months. I will not attempt to pretend to be a scientist and explain those issues, but they do relate to lack of oxygen at the sediment water interface and a potential increase in acidity of the marine waters. I would draw members' attention to an article in the southern Messenger newspaper, published in March this year, in which oceanographer, Dr Jochen Kaempf, and marine biologist, Dr Kirsten Benkendorff—who I think received a young scientist award a couple of years ago—raised very specific concerns about the impact of this proposal on the environment and the fishing industry. We have been given reassurances. I think Dr Alan Holmes has said on radio that the desalination plant will not have a negative impact on the marine environment; however, the water that is returned to the gulf has twice the salinity of ordinary seawater. These scientists have raised the concern about low oxygen content, which will greatly threaten squid eggs, I think, in particular.

There are concerns about other aspects of the marine environment. The Adelaide Coastal Waters Study recently published has flagged a number of issues in relation to the damage that has already been done to marine coasts. I think these issues could more adequately be examined by the ERD Committee of parliament, as a multi-partisan committee. I think it would be a very worthwhile exercise to examine these issues in greater detail, not to slow the process down in any sense, but to have a far more transparent approach to what impact this will have on our environment from many points of view. I also note that the local mayor and a number of councillors from the Onkaparinga City Council—which is the local council—really have not been given much reassurance about a number of aspects of this. They have also gone on the public record to raise their concerns. With those remarks, I seek the support of the Legislative Council to refer this reference to the ERD Committee. I look forward to further debate on the motion.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.