Green-farmer alliance awaits minister’s decision on coal seam gas approval
Environmentalists, farmers and the communities of the Western Downs are anxiously awaiting tomorrow’s decision by Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, regarding applications by coal seam gas companies Santos and British Gas, for environmental approval of their export operations.
Federal approval of these projects is required under the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) which has to take into consideration such issues as impacts on endangered species and ecosystems.
Six Degrees spokesperson, Drew Hutton, said recent events such as the finding of BTEX pollutants at eight Origin gas wells near Miles and health impacts of BG's gas infrastructure at Tara underline the contentious nature of this new industry and why the Minister needs to take a precautionary approach.
Mr Hutton outlined several points that will be crucial if the Minister decides to give qualified approval to the projects. These all regard the management of underground water resources.
- There should be no exploration and production wells in those parts of the Great Artesian Basin where there are known interconnections between the Walloon Coal Measures and surrounding aquifers. This is most apparent in the eastern and central Darling Downs where the Condamine Alluviums and the Coal Measures intersect but there are other areas across the Basin where this is also the case.
- The companies should not be given approvals to go ahead with any development of the gas fields until they can provide environmental management plans that contain proper modeling of underground water systems and measures taken to minimise risk to these.
- If re-injection of water into aquifers is suggested as the preferred way of dealing with the large volumes of water extracted by the process, then this should be recognized as a very complex process with potentially disastrous consequences if done wrongly. Some promising trials have been done but the companies are a long way from developing a methodology that can bring about a balanced water table.
Mr Hutton said:
The consequences of getting this wrong do not bear thinking about.
Given the irresponsible ‘gold rush’ attitude of the Bligh government and the LNP opposition to these projects, Mr Burke has a heavy responsibility to bring some clear thinking to the approvals process.
Mr Hutton also reminded the Minister to deeply consider the recent detection of BTEX chemicals in out of the 17 exploration wells at a coal seam gas site in the Western Downs:
This process has gone wrong. There should not be those chemicals in the fluids that are coming up from the wells and the fact that it's in eight wells shows there's some sort of pattern going on here.
We need to get to the bottom of it and if somebody has done the wrong thing then they need to be held to account for it.
These are exploration wells. If we haven't got it right from day one we're likely to find all sorts of damage being caused to the environment.