500 strong protest to reject coal on the Darling Downs
A 500 strong crowd of farmers, environmentalists and concerned citizens gathered at 'Waverley' on Wednesday 19th May to take part in a peaceful rally against the expansion of the Coal Seam Gas Mining Industry on the Darling Downs.
They were accompanied by the massing of 54 cotton and grain harvesters and tractors in a kilometre long blockade - to provide a strong show of farm power to protest against the intrusion of mining companies on prime agricultural land.
The farmers cheered when rally organiser Dave Armstrong called for a moratorium on mining activities so that major environment issues, such as the mining companies' proposed use of large quantities of underground water, could be addressed.
'Waverley' is the first intensive cropping property on the black soil plains that has been approached by a mining company looking to prove their methane reserves in the area.
Local landholders are concerned about the potential effects of coal seam methane mining on their valuable farming lands and the State Government's unreserved support for an industry that has a history of negative environmental impacts overseas.
Members from Save Our Darling Downs used the rally to launch their local action group and explained that it was now their responsibility to inform all Queenslanders about the potential negative impacts associated with the extraction of methane gas, since the government had clearly failed to do so.
Waverley farmer and founding member of SODD, Ruth Armstrong told the crowd:
The State Government and the Premier of Queensland, in throwing their wholehearted and unqualified support behind this industry, are gambling with the health of our rural environment and the future of our food security.
Approval for such a massive scheme should not have been given to an industry, and particularly to a mining industry, without first assessing the impacts to our environment and our rural sector.
What project gets the go ahead without implementing systems to deal with waste management?
Ruth Armstrong says they've mapped out the area for the proposed coal seam gas pilot project using a GPS to give a visual representation of what would be in their paddocks.
Co-organiser of the rally Stuart Armitage said the Queensland Government's own literature showed that it was allowing CSG companies to extract water directly from the Great Artesian Basin, even though the resource was already deemed to be over-allocated. He said he would remain opposed to the industry until conclusive scientific evidence could be established which proved that the CSG process posed no long-term threat to the GAB, shallow aquifers relied upon by existing users and farming land:
When they can prove that beyond doubt, we will start talking to them.
We believe we can work with them if they can make it environmentally sustainable, and we're also able to remain sustainable with what we're doing.
The Petroleum Act of 1923 allows these people to take as much water as they like while they're removing gas - there is no control on the amount of water they take.
In 30 years time I'll probably be dead, but if they take the water, what is going to be left here is a ghost town called Dalby and land that is not worth owning.
Farmers surrounded the field with heavy farming machinery as a show of solidarity.
They called on the Premier to issue a moratorium on all further developments to Coal Seam Methane mining until scientific research proved that there would be no detrimental impacts on groundwater and current landuse practices, and until systems could be put in place to adequately deal with the water and salt by-products of the extraction process.
Rally organiser Dave Armstrong told the crowd:
This should not just be about jobs, jobs and jobs or royalties, royalties and more royalties.
We're asking the State Government to take us — the farmers — seriously. We are facing broad scale environmental damage.
The use of up to 350,000 megalitres a year by coal seam gas mining companies could devastate large areas of the Great Artesian Basin and would cripple small farming communities such as Cecil Plains.
We want the government to be our advocates, not our enemy. We're fighting the complete industrialisation of land that has the best farming soil in the nation.
Anna Bligh has said she will resist any attempt to slow down the coal seam gas industry but we simply want a pause so that the science of what is happening is properly explored.
Farmers made it quite clear that if the State Government was not prepared to do so, then they would impose a moratorium of their own.
According to this report by ABC Rural, many at the rally including local farmer Graham Clapham and Friends of the Earth campaigner Drew Hutton called for a show of force and encouraged people to deny coal seam gas companies access to their land.
'Waverley' neighbour and local landholder Graham Clapham said:
When it comes down to it, if all else fails, we will physically keep them off.
Six Degrees and Friends of the Earth spokesperson on the CSG issue, Drew Hutton addressed the rally, and presented our position to the Darling Downs community.
Watch the footage here: