Governments back coal seam gas industry

It took Arrow Energy more than 24 hours to cap a major gas well blow-out. The well sprayed water and methane up to 90 metres in the air on a farming property west of Dalby in Queensland.

The leak took place on May 22 when the well was being prepared for production.

The leak was not reported to authorities until two hours after it occurred, and it took the gas company a further four hours to inform property owner Tom O'Connor.

O'Connor told AAP that this leak was the fourth gas incident on his property, and that he "wouldn't allow a coal seam gas miner onto his property ... if he had his way”.

A landowner from the nearby town of Tara, also the subject of coal seam gas drilling, visited the site to try to document the incident.

Dayne Pratzky went to film the blowout and was told an exclusion zone applied before he was removed from the site.

Queensland Greens spokesperson Libby Connors said: “If this [exclusion zone] was imposed for safety reasons it would be reasonable.

“But given that political figures such as Mayor Ray Brown have been given access to the site, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Premier Anna Bligh said there will be an investigation into the incident.

The Lock the Gate Alliance, which brings together hundreds of community groups and individuals concerned about coal seam gas, continues to advocate an immediate moratorium on coal mining and coal seam gas projects pending a full inquiry.

Bligh has refused these calls for a moratorium, which would allow for community consultation and a broader investigation into the environmental impacts of the rapidly expanding industry.

Bligh has defended the coal seam gas industry for its economic benefits.



However, in NSW the state government recently imposed a 60-day moratorium on new coal, petroleum and coal seam gas exploration licences.

The NSW Planning Department said: “The moratorium has been imposed to enable the new arrangements around the issuing of exploration licences for coal, coal seam gas and petroleum exploration licences to be put in place.”

The arrangements include new applications for exploration licences to be exhibited for public comment before a license is issued, an Agricultural Impact Assessment to be submitted, and introduction of an “Aquifer Interference Policy” to evaluate impacts on underground water supplies.

The NSW government's 60-day moratorium does not affect exploratory licences already granted and this week drilling began in the Belanglo State Forest southwest of Sydney.

Hume Coal, a joint project of Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO) and Cockatoo Coal, holds the exploration license, which covers 115 square kilometres in the Southern Highlands.

Hume Coal’s Julie Gander told the ABC on May 23 it intends to sink wells “up to a hundred metres deep at thirty sites over the coming weeks”.

Jeremy Buckingham from the NSW Greens says the Greens will continue working for a 12-month moratorium and an inquiry into the coal seam gas industry.

The rapid expansion of the industry across Queensland and NSW continues to encourage unlikely voices speaking out against its broad-ranging potential risks.

During a May 26 interview with Lock the Gate's Drew Hutton on 2GB radio, Alan Jones pointed out that “two thirds of NSW is now subject to petroleum, gas or a coal application for development”.

Jones said he is not opposed to coal or coal seam gas mining but raised concerns about the government's lack of consideration in approving gas projects on and around prime agricultural land.

“There are many issues that are going to have to be addressed before the face of Australia changes irreparably.”

Comments

There are currently exploration licences for CSG in the Otway basin (Colac region) and south Gippsland. This in a state that is experiencing a scare campaign about "health risks" from wind turbines. CSG extraction is going to come here and farming communities will have to consider which form of energy generation they prefer.

NIMBYs may be able to leverage the state Liberal government to bully the wind companies and lock them out, they mostly are not huge operations, but I doubt they will have such luck with the fossil fuel industry which has far more political muscle.

Ben Courtice

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