Christmas Cove fuel leak remains a mystery

The source of fuel leaking out at Christmas Cove, Penneshaw remains a mystery, the Kangaroo Island Council heard at its December meeting.

The SA Environment Protection Authority on December 5 provided a preliminary response indicating its view that council’s assessment reports were inconclusive and is therefore being considered an “orphan site”.

The EPA has commenced further assessment looking at historical land uses and potential sources of contamination and is forecasting a response to the council in early 2019. 

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Mayor Michael Pengilly at the meeting said he had spoken to the service station operator of the Penneshaw and was assured a previously leaking tank had been removed.

The councillors then heard there were potentially other sources included unknown buried fuel tanks around Penneshaw. The council did not however have the authority to drill on private land.

The council was informed that site investigations and particularly sampling analytics indicated that the contaminant has been within the terrestrial environment for a long duration before emerging from the soil profile at Christmas Cove. 

The contaminants have been determined to be diesel and petrol fuels that have been present in the environment for between 18 and 34 years. Chemical analysis has revealed that some of these contaminants are from different sources.

“It is therefore unclear if the issue will exacerbate or moderate over time and what appropriate processes can be employed to mitigate or improve the environmental effects or presence here forward,” the minutes read.

CEO Andrew Boardman informed councillors that signs would be erected Christmas Cove marina area to explain the pungent odour emanating from rock wall at the back of the cove.

According to the December meeting minutes, investigations have indicated that there are no identifiable ignition or human health risks associated with the current state of the contamination.

However the council seeks to reiterate the marina rules to refrain from swimming, fishing and removal of marine organisms from the cove to avoid any potential risks associated with the presence of the contaminant.

The council became aware of potential contamination within Christmas Cove in 2015. Due to the nature of the contaminants, it was suspected that the source is a near-by petrol station.

The EPA requested that the council undertake investigations into the source of the contamination, suggesting that petrol station was not the suspected contaminant source.

The council subsequently, and at its own expense, obtained the Tierra Environment Report, which suggested that the source was likely to be the petrol station and recommended that further testing be undertaken.

Official release from KI Council (Dec. 14):

Kangaroo Island Council recently submitted its suite of soil assessment reports to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) in respect of the contaminant present at Christmas Cove, Penneshaw.

The contaminants have been determined to be diesel and petrol fuels that have been present in the environment for between 18 and 34 years. Chemical analysis has revealed that some of these contaminants are from different sources.

The EPA has provided preliminary advice on its assessment of Kangaroo Island Council’s findings. They have determined that the investigations carried out do not conclusively reveal the source of contamination. 

While the smell and distillate films may be unpleasant at times, they do not present a health risk. Signs will soon be placed at the site to advise this.

Given this view, the EPA will treat this as an “orphan” site. An orphan site is one where the source cannot be conclusively confirmed.

The EPA has advised that if they identify additional data or information that enables them to identify a responsible party, the EPA will regulate them to take appropriate assessment and remediation steps.

As an orphan site, the EPA has commenced preliminary desktop investigations into the historic land uses, potential sources and the existing consultants’ reports before determining whether and what additional sampling may be required. 

Although not confirmed formally as yet, the EPA indicates that the additional assessment works will commence in the first quarter of 2019.

Council awaits the EPA’s formal response detailing its assessment and any intended actions.

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