Concerns raised over failure to clean up old petrol stations lying dormant, derelict for years
By Sourced Externally
June 1, 2023
A disused service station in Stanwell Park has become an eyesore.(ABC Illawarra Justin Huntsdale)
A former MP has raised concerns about a legislative failure to deal with old service stations and the pollution they cause.
Former NSW police minister Ted Pickering said a petrol station site at Stanwell Park in the northern Illawarra had been abandoned for about 20 years and poor regulation meant nobody was fixing the site.
Mr Pickering said it was one of hundreds of old petrol stations that hadn’t been cleaned up because no legislation existed to compel owners to remediate the site, or even notify the NSW Environment Protection Authority of potential pollution.
He said there was an enormous problem which could only be solved if the NSW government faced up to its responsibility and changed the law.
He said the petroleum industry was the real polluter and should pay for the decommissioning of petrol stations.
“As of 9 September 2019, the EPA website of contaminated sites reveals that there are 892 redundant petrol stations throughout NSW,” Mr Pickering said.
“It is estimated that within 12 years, [electric vehicles] will see the closure of about a further 3,000 petrol stations.”
Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketing Association chief executive Mark McKenzie said the landholder was responsible for cleaning up the site once a service station closed and the industry had tight standards in place.
“So if we work on the basis the landholder is actually responsible for cleaning up the site and that they have actually leased that to the fossil fuel industry, so they have been a beneficiary there then effectively it is the landholder that is ultimately responsible and indirectly its industry paying,” he said.
“Whenever you have a site that is taken out of service there are very strong guidelines and our industry advocates those for ensuring that all fuel from the tanks is left in the ground.
“Once that has been done and if the forecourt infrastructure has been removed there is not a contamination risk.
“You have still got the eyesore risk.”
Mr Pickering said he had unsuccessfully tried to find out who owned the Stanwell Park site and said it had been onsold six times.
Due to changes made by the NSW government in September 2019, Mr Pickering said there was insufficient oversight of monitoring and registration of Underground Petroleum Storage Systems (UPSS) sites.
“So instead of the EPA being responsible for redundant petrol stations they made councils responsible, but they didn’t give council any sort of money in order to manage that responsibility,” Mr Pickering said.
“So as a result redundant petrol stations simply stay redundant.
“No-one is in effect doing anything about it unless a redundant petrol station site is situated in a high-value commercial area.”
His concern is shared by Wollongong City Council which this week passed a resolution calling on the state government to provide it with additional resources to manage contaminated sites.
“Managing compliance with UPSS legislation will continue to have resource implications for the council,” lord mayor Gordon Bradbery said in a mayoral minute.
“Adequate resources should have been provided when this responsibility was transferred from the NSW Environmental Protection Authority, particularly given concern in the community regarding defunct UPSS sites.”
Mr McKenzie agreed that oversight was inadequate.
“One of the concerns we have is that while we understand the reasons that was actually done, the central challenge is these are significant assets, they are quite complex,” he said.
The Environment Protection Authority said it provided training to more than 300 council officers ahead of the transition of responsibility.
“Local councils are well placed to deliver a single point of environmental and planning regulation for common activities in their community, including for service stations,” and EPA spokesman said.
“The EPA continues to provide support to councils as needed.”