|Photo © QCC
Aspects of the Coal Seam Gas industry (CSG) are escalating at an exponential rate. There are justified concerns rising not only in the conservation movement but sectors of the broader community are alarmed at what is occurring. This is evidenced by protests outside Parliament during August. In recent times the Queensland Government has introduced a range of management controls but the galloping expansion of the CSG industry is steaming ahead with knowledge gaps being exposed daily. It would seem that the Government is blinded by the short term economic gains driving long term environment harm and the loss of prime agricultural land into the background.
Make no mistake Wildlife Queensland is talking about the CSG industry not the underground coal gasification industry (UCG). There are three UCG pilot projects approved in Queensland under strict controls according to the Queensland Government. Yet both the Cougar Energy and the Linc Inc. operations have been called into question and concerns raised. On overseas experience alone the wisdom of permitting this technology in Queensland should be questioned. This approach and technology should be banned.
The CSG industry has enough challenges of its own.
The CSG industry
- Impacts on prime agricultural land, a limited resource according to Queensland’s Government data- yet there is talk of ‘offsetting’ the impact. Wildlife Queensland asks how do you ‘offset’ a limited resource?
- Associated waters generated by CSG are estimated to be up to 350 000ML annually when full production is achieved. Wildlife Queensland supports the beneficial use of these waters. While there are some suggestions of how these waters of extremely variable quality may be used, there is no current solution as to the disposal of such large volumes without causing environmental harm. Reinjection is one consideration but there appear to be mounting technical hurdles that cannot be overcome currently.
- Then there is the question of what impact the extraction of these waters to release the gas has on the Great Artesian Basin in the long term. The Great Artesian Basin is the life blood of many of our rural industries. A range of statements abound but the real answer appears to be “The knowledge of impact does not exist with any certainty”. Wildlife Queensland suggests that this is a risk far too great to take.
- What do you do with over a million tonnes of brine by-product produced annually from the CGS industry when it is in full swing? The Government does not appear to know nor the industry or otherwise it would have been included in the companies EISs or spelt out in the conditioned approvals provided by the Queensland Government.
The status of the major CSG EIS projects is as follows:
- Gladstone LNG (Santos/Petronas). The Queensland Coordinator-General has issued his assessment report recommending the project proceed subject to providing further information on a range of topics including, but not limited to, groundwater modelling, associated waters and brine management, offsets and gas field development.
- Queensland Curtis LNG (BG/QCC) Coordinator-General has issued his assessment report recommending the project to proceed subject to providing additional information on water and brine management, offsets, nuisance issues gas field layout and design. QCC has been granted an environmental authority for the LNG plant on Curtis Island.
- Australia Pacific LNG (Origin/ConocoPhilips) The EIS stage has been completed and additional information is being provided to government and submitters. The assessment report is pending.
- Arrow Energy Surat Gas Expansion. Final Terms of Reference are yet to be provided with the EIS likely to be submitted before the end of the year. However Shell has announced a takeover arrangement and this may impact on the processes.
- Other projects related to the CSG industry include Shell LNG plant on Curtis Island, Arrow Energy Bowen Basin Expansion, Surat Gladstone pipeline, LNG Ltd, Fishermans Landing, Sojitz Fishermans Landing.
- Western Basin Dredging and Disposal Project. The Coordinator-General has approved for the dredging, reclamation and port development to support the LNG industry on Curtis Island and Fishermans Island. The Commonwealth has yet to provide its approval for this project that involves dredging about 385 ha of seabed and dumping spoil over 400ha of land with significant impact on sea grass beds and marine life.
It should be noted that the Commonwealth Government has yet to provide approval where required for these projects. The Commonwealth Government becomes involved when there is potential impact on matters of national significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. In the case of many of the above proposals, the Commonwealth has sought additional data.
Photo © QCC
Will all these projects come to fruition? Wildlife Queensland trusts that will not be the case but regardless of what occurs, the environment will suffer. A major concern is that there is no apparent attempt to determine the total cumulative effect and impact of these projects on Queensland’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems. In fairness to Origin/ConocoPhilips, that consortium at least made an attempt but it the responsibility of Government not the individual proponents. The Queensland Conservation Council has approached the Commonwealth Government to seek a strategic appraisal of the coal extraction and Coal Seam Gas industries in Queensland but that was rejected stating that the Queensland Government was not inclined to cooperate. It is Wildlife Queensland’s understanding that this may be being reconsidered by Queensland Government.
What is occurring.
The Queensland Government is developing a strategy to protect prime agricultural land and advice to hand indicates that it is not far away but how far away is the legislation needed to underpin such a strategy? Work continues on addressing knowledge gaps and enhanced management guidelines.
The Liberal National Party, Queensland’s Opposition, has a policy developed that is a plan for the future security of food and fibre production. It is based on developing a charter of property rights, a Commission for future foods and fibre, the protection of prime agricultural land, a rural water advisory panel and the resourcing of the regions. The next election may still be 18 months away. The Independents in Queensland parliament are speaking with one voice on this issue and support a moratorium. The Greens also have publicly supported this position.
In an open letter to our political leaders, farmers and environmentalists are calling for a new approach to Queensland’s future. Wildlife Queensland strongly supports this position.
As a first step to a more sustainable Queensland we want:
- A prohibition on new coal mining and coal seam gas extraction on cropping lands, in proximity to towns, areas of high ecological value and adjacent to protected areas
- A ban on underground coal gasification
- A moratorium on coal seam gas development until social and environmental issues are resolved.
Photo © QCC
What is Wildlife Queensland doing?
Wildlife Queensland has been raising our concerns when opportunities present such as in submissions to the various EIS’s, having one to one discussions with representatives of the major proponents, raising concerns with the Premier and Ministers and at relevant Ministerial advisory committees on which Wildlife Queensland has representation. A submission was made on the protection of prime agricultural land. Members of Wildlife Queensland participated in the recent protest outside Parliament. The Wildlife Queensland State Council directed staff to liaise with QCC to facilitate a more united approach from the conservation movement and several meetings have resulted to date.
What you can do
Let your concerns be known to your local parliamentary representatives. Write letters to the Editor of your local newspapers or raise the issue on talk back radio should opportunities present. If appropriate join in protests organised in your region.
For more information on Wildlife Queensland's activities, call us on +61 7 3221 0194 or send us an email.
Last Updated - August 2010