Oil leak on rail corridor near the intersection of Mount Low Parkway and the Bruce Highway.
Oil leak on rail corridor near the intersection of Mount Low Parkway and the Bruce Highway.

Oil spill may have links to Clive Palmer

CLIVE Palmer's companies could be responsible for an oil spill from a pipeline that feeds the Yabulu nickel refinery from the Port of Townsville.

State Government environment officers are investigating the spill of oil beside the Bruce Highway at Mount Low near where the underground pipeline runs.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment and Science said they were still investigating the spill, including who was responsible for the pipeline.

Sources have told the Bulletin control of the pipeline passed to Queensland Nickel Sales, a company which records show Mr Palmer is the sole director.

In early 2016 when administrators were operating the ­refinery, Mr Palmer made a shock move to snatch back control of the plant and its operations by replacing the collapsed entity Queensland Nickel with a new manager, Queensland Nickel Sales Pty Ltd.

The oil spill was discovered last month but the department investigation is being hampered by recent wet weather.

"Recent rainfall in Townsville has continued to delay investigative earthworks of the spill area. The heavy earthwork machinery is not able to safely operate due to the muddy conditions," a department spokesman said.

The spill covers an area about 1.5m wide by 20m long and laboratory results show it is consistent with a low viscosity bulk fuel oil previously used by the refinery.

"DES will continue to investigate the source, cause and extent of contamination," the spokesman said.

The spokesman said the department would consider enforcement options.

"Enforcement will depend on what the investigation finds," he said.

The spokesman said staff from Queensland Nickel Sales had assessed the spill site and installed hydrocarbon oil booms.

A story published in The Australian newspaper this week says Mr Palmer, under his alias Terry Smith, defied warnings from refinery staff in 2015 about potential oil leaks from the pipeline.

Emails from Mr Palmer's nephew, Martin Brewster, to Mr Palmer's Terry Smith email address urged Mr Palmer to authorise an inspection of the pipeline but Mr Palmer replied: "Not approved I want extend the times gap for surveys by 12 months there really pointless, Clive (sic)."

Puma Energy, which acquired the refinery's fuel storage assets at the port in 2014, said the 28km pipeline was not part of the acquisition.

"This pipeline was used when QNI was operational to move fuel oil from the tank farm to the nickel refinery," the spokeswoman said.

"It was not a part of Puma Energy's acquisition, as Puma did not require this pipeline for its operations.

"This pipeline is not owned or operated by Puma Energy and has not been used since Queensland Nickel ceased production in February 2016."

Mr Palmer, who has previously denied his companies were responsible for the spill, did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment yesterday.

Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd was placed in administration and then liquidation in early 2016 with the loss of 800 jobs and debts of $300 million.