Coal Seam Gas – radicalised opponents, staunch supporters and a disappearing middle ground

Bob Irwin, father of conservationist Steve Irwin said “being nice and politically correct hasn’t worked” for opponents of coal seam gas mining at a Brisbane rally yesterday*.

However Irwin refused to say what he had in mind, saying he didn’t “want to get you all into trouble,” winning applause from the crowd.

Representatives from the Greens and Lock the Gate Alliance joined farmers and environmentalists at the Gap State High School to voice their concerns about coal seam gas.

It comes after the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) launched its “We Want CSG” campaign on September 4.

“In my lifetime I’ve never seen such a devastating industry,” Bob Irwin said.

Secretary of the Lock the Gate Alliance Sarah Moles said her opposition was based on the precautionary principle.

The Australian Government’s Productivity Commission states that a “lack of full scientific certainty” should not be an excuse for avoiding precautionary measures “where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage.”

“Basically that means ‘if you’re in any doubt about the effects of something, don’t do it,’” Ms Moles said.

Wild Rivers Campaigner for the Wilderness Society Glenn Walker agrees.

“The industry and the government simply haven’t done their homework to satisfy the community that the industry (won’t) affect the environment and our communities,” he said.

In an interview Federal Member for Maranoa Bruce Scott said coal seam gas is “a great energy source that’s going to bring new job opportunities” to his electorate.

Maranoa is a vast inland electorate, stretching from Dalby to the Northern Territory border and from the New South Wales border as far north as Winton.

Mr Scott said he had reservations about mining companies’ access to prime agricultural land, which he said accounts for two per cent of Queensland’s land.

“Prime agricultural land should be treated like the Great Barrier Reef and reserved for farming only. You can’t go to the Great Barrier Reef and drill for resources.

“There is also a requirement that there is a buffer zone of at least two kilometres including towns and small towns where they should not be allowed,” he said.

However, Mr Scott said underground resources are and should remain the property of the crown.

Darling Downs farmer Ruth Armstrong told the rally that Arrow Energy approached her family about drilling on their land to last night’s rally.

“Even if we go to a court of law, the Land Court can only award compensation.

“They can’t stop them from drilling altogether,” Mrs Armstrong said.

Mrs Armstrong said she was only allowed legal representation during negotiations if Arrow Energy approved.

Arrow Energy declined to comment on the matter.

Opponents of coal seam gas mining are also concerned about the potential health risks posed by the process of fracking.

Fracking, according to the Queensland Department of Energy and Resource Management, involves blasting water, sand and some chemicals into underground coal seams “to prop open … minute cracks and openings” from which to extract natural gas.

Ms Moles said “children have been getting nose bleeds and ear bleeds, and then getting better when they go to the coast for a holiday”.

Greens spokesperson Dr Sandra Bayley told last night’s rally that there is “international concern” for the safety of chemicals used in the fracking process.

“Only two of the 22 chemicals used in fracking have been assessed, and not in relation to coal seam gas,” she said.

Arrow Energy’s Vice President Exploration Tony Knight rejected claims of potential health risks.

“The by-product of CSG mining is water.

“Coal seam gas is methane, which is much lighter than air.

“Consequently, if it is by some means released to the environment, it rapidly rises into the atmosphere, and does not spread out at ground level.

“Moreover, methane, while it is flammable, is not toxic,” he said.

Wild Rivers Campaigner for the Wilderness Society Glenn Walker expressed concern over the mining industry’s exemption from Queensland’s Water Act.

“This effectively means they can suck out as much water as they like from our aquifers and the Great Artesian Basin.

“It competes with agriculture for water,” he said.

Greens spokesperson Libby Connors stressed how old the water in the Great Artesian Basin is.

“The volume of water that the CSG industry intends to take from it would mean it would take a thousand years for the Great Artesian Basin to recover,” she said.

Mr Walker said the water that is extracted from underground in order to extract gas is salty, posing a potential risk to the environment and agriculture.

“We’re talking about vast quantities of salt here that are exposed to the landscape,” he said.

Mr Knight said there are “provisions to allow for creation of new waste disposal facilities”.

“However, the CSG industry would prefer to find beneficial use of salt, with disposal being the last resort,” he said.

Bruce Scott MP said the waste water could be used in agriculture, industry, and to supplement town water supplies.

“If we get the predicted growth in (the Darling Downs) we’re going to need more water, so it could well be used for that rather than evaporated or run down a creek, causing environmental problems,” he said.

Mr Scott said making the water potable would be no more expensive than when sea water is desalinated in coastal areas.

The Naked Pun produced this report for a university assignment.

* Bob Irwin’s rally didn’t actually happen “yesterday”.

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