The caustic incident at QAL's South Trees Island facility in 2017.
The caustic incident at QAL's South Trees Island facility in 2017. Contributed

'Deep regret': QAL delays hearing into 2017 chemical spills

A MAJOR Gladstone refinery has delayed a hearing into two serious chemical leaks, one of which spilt into the harbour and triggered an environmental impact investigation.

Queensland Alumina Limited, owned by mining giant Rio Tinto and international aluminium company Rusal, is facing several charges - including two counts of wilfully contravene condition of environmental authority and three counts of contravene condition of environmental authority - after two separate incidents in September and December 2017.

The matters were listed to be heard in Gladstone Magistrates Court on Wednesday.

But they were adjourned at the request of QAL for "further discussions with the Queensland Department of Environment and Science" to occur, a QAL spokeswoman told The Observer.

On September 25 it was reported "several tonnes" of sodium hydroxide spilt into the harbour from a vessel at QAL wharf.

At the time a QAL spokesperson told The Observer the "caustic discharge" happened when "caustic material" was being unloaded from the berthed vessel at about 10.45pm.

The QAL spokesperson said it was believed a portion of the flow "bypassed into the seawater".

In October a DES spokesperson told The Observer that harbour inspections showed no evidence of harm to marine life, no visible impact on the shoreline or reported damage to other vessels from the spill.

On December 5 a second sodium hydroxide leak was reported, this time at QAL's South Trees Facility.

Reports suggested a sodium hydroxide storage tank ruptured and released its contents into a bunded area within QAL.

At the time a QAL spokesperson said none of the material breached the facility's containment lines, causing no impact to the environment or community.

It has also been reported that QAL upgraded its caustic-loading equipment and installed new technology following the incidents.

In a statement to The Observer following the court mention, a QAL spokeswoman said the company "deeply regrets" the two environmental incidents.

"We recognise that our environmental performance has not met the standards set by ourselves and the community," she said.

"QAL is cooperating fully with the DES and will await the outcome from the court process."

According to the Queensland Environmental Protection Act 1994, a corporation can face fines of up to $815,937 for the wilful contravention of an environmental protection order.

The matters were adjourned to March 6.