Briefing: Santos is a polluting company with a poor track record

Santos, one of Australia’s largest oil and gas companies, consistently claim it has no significant record of safety or environmental incidents at its gasfields operations.

As this compilation of incidents taken from the companies’ own internal audit reports, regulatory reviews and media reports show, Santos has a long and alarming track record relating to regulatory non-compliance, safety and environmental pollution incidents, and should not be trusted to undertake high-risk hydraulic fracturing in the NT.

Santos in SA’s Cooper Basin:

In 2012, Santos reported 17 flow line failures (pinhole leaks) on their 5000 km steel flow line network in the Cooper Basin. Such failures are defined as serious incidents under the currently gazetted Cooper Basin Processing and Production SEO. The failure mechanisms related to internal and external corrosion, with the primary root cause being inadequate monitoring and maintenance.

In September 2011, Santos reported a leak adjacent to crude oil storage Tank 1000 on a separate buried crude line to that which failed in November 2009.

December 2011 Santos reported a failure detected on its 10” buried crude run down line from the crude stabilization plant to Tank 3000. These incidents were attributed to the absence of cathodic protection on the buried sections of these lines and defects in the corrosion protective polyethylene wrap at the locations where the pipes failed.

On 12 January 2011 Santos reported hydrocarbon on groundwater at ~22 m below ground level. Dissolved hydrocarbons in the groundwater had been detected beneath a decommissioned burn pit adjacent to the Toolachee gas processing facility within Petroleum Production Licence 14 in the Cooper Basin.

The oily sludge pit at the Moomba plant is lined but leaked during operation. This allowed for vertical migration of contaminants through the soil profile and hence seepage into the underlying shallow aquifer.

On 12 September 2011 Santos reported a second buried line leak adjacent to crude oil storage Tank 1000 on a separate crude line to that which failed in November 2009. As a result of this line failure, on 17 October Santos reported that 1.2 m of phase-separated hydrocarbon was detected on groundwater in the vicinity beneath the location of this leak. On 28 November 2012 Santos was issued with a formal notice of noncompliance for undertaking an activity, the partial replacement of 2 km of the Moomba to Port Bonython liquids pipeline, without distributing formal notice of entry letters to relevant landowners, thereby breaching section 61 of the Act.


In June 2001, a pump exploded at the liquids pumping station killing Process Operator Colin Jeremy Sutton. Another worker received burns to the neck and hand. In the South Australian State Industrial Relations Court, Santos pleaded guilty to three counts that it had “failed in its most basic responsibility as an employer” by not ensuring its employees were safe from injury and risk to health. The company was fined $105,000. The magistrate said Santos had failed to supervise Sutton or train him in the use of an emergency shutdown device.


On January 1, 2004, an explosion occurred at Santos’ Moomba processing facility. The blast was traced to the Liquids Recovery Plant (LRP), where an inlet manifold and a related flange weld both failed after corrosion by mercury. Mercury was released along with a cloud of flammable gases including methane, ethane, propane and butane. Workers saw the cloud and raised the alarm, shutting down the plant and evacuating to designated safety points. Some workers allegedly did not hear the emergency alarms. The gas cloud ignited on contact with a heating unit 150 metres away, and an explosion followed. The plant was seriously damaged.

Moomba workers who sought to remain anonymous told The Australian newspaper on January 5 that the company was running a “cowboy” operation, and that it was luck, not management that had prevented any loss of life.

In 2011, the South Australian industrial relations court ruled that 13 employees had been placed at risk due to critical safety shortcomings. These included an inadequate risk assessment, which failed to identify the likelihood of plant failing due to liquid metal rendering it brittle. The company pleaded guilty to breaching the Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Act after a SafeWork prosecution and was fined $84,000. (see:

Santos’ Pollution Incidents

  • Gladstone Harbour, QLD Great Barrier Reef

Santos has been fined a total of $20,000 for five instances of permit breaches around pollution incidents at Gladstone Harbour. Santos failed to report one incident for 8 months, despite a requirement for reporting within 5 business days.

  • Channel Country, Western QLD

An oil spill in June 2013 is one of the first major pollution incidents in the Lake Eyre Basin. A published report is available from the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

The oil spill has been described as Queensland’s third largest, releasing about 250,000 litres to the Cooper Creek floodplain.

An FOI investigation was launched into this spill. A July 2014 department briefing note obtained by the ABC has revealed an investigation into the spill “determined that there was sufficient evidence to lay charges for breaches of the Environmental Protection Act 1994”.

The document noted Santos has “historically had both major and minor spills … which can be attributed to aging infrastructure and/or poor maintenance and management”.

But Santos was not prosecuted.

Santos: a broad brush overview of its incidents and spills each year.

santos spills 2015

A list of spills, breaches and non-compliance incidents from the 2015 Santos Sustainability Report, available online:

Santos 2016 Sustainability performance data spills (1)

From 2016 Santos Sustainability performance data, available online: