Great Barrier Reef win, coal seam gas loss

Some protections have been won but the Great Barrier Reef remains under threat.

Environment groups have welcomed the passage of legislation on November 12 that restricts sea dumping and port expansion in the Great Barrier Reef heritage area as a victory for people power.

However within days the government showed its true colours by welcoming the expansion of the coal seam gas (CSG) and liquified natural gas (LNG) industries, totally ignoring the long-term adverse impacts of these activities on climate change and on the sustainability of the reef.

Revel Pointon of the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) said: “In conjunction with the Commonwealth restrictions on sea dumping, this Act will help ensure that dredge spoil from new port developments cannot be dumped near the Reef as was proposed in the Abbot Point Port expansion.

“Not only does the Act protect our Reef, but our pristine coastline areas of the Fitzroy Delta and Cape York will also be better protected from port industrialisation under this Act.

“We acknowledge there is still a lot of work to do to ensure the Reef is able to recover from the significant impacts it has suffered under poor management to date.

“In particular we need to reform state planning laws to better regulate development in coastal areas and high risk Reef catchments, to ensure areas of ecological significance and water quality are protected and sediment is controlled.”

The Australian Marine Conservation Society Reef Campaign Director Imogen Zethoven said the legislation represented “one of the most significant conservation victories ever for the Great Barrier Reef”.

“The dumping ban becoming law sits alongside the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the World Heritage Area and the green zones as landmark moments for Reef protection.”

However, many challenges remain. “The latest dredging plan for Abbot Point could be approved any day, the promised ban on transhipping has not yet been achieved, the Ports Bill doesn't cover dumping of dredge spoil from smaller projects like marinas, and each year about one million cubic metres of spoil from maintenance dredging is dumped in Reef waters,” she said.

Less than a week later, on November 16, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk showed that her Labor government was intent on carrying on the tradition of the previous Bligh government, which had presided over the introduction of the CSG industry to Queensland.

Government policy remains firmly committed to CSG, which has been proved to result in the long term destruction of agricultural and pastoral activity, has a severe impact on the water table, reducing bore water in quality and quantity, as well as causing chronic health issues for farmers and their families. The economic impact on farming communities and the social and psychological costs are immeasurable.

The Premier went overboard in inflating the benefits to be gained from CSG. "QGC's [Queensland Gas Company] announcement today that they are investing another $1.7 billion in this industry is a welcome boost to the Queensland economy that will support 1600 jobs.”

Queensland development minister Anthony Lynham said Queensland's LNG exports were projected to hit $15 billion by 2016-17. "That means valuable export dollars and annual royalties while supporting thousands of jobs for Queensland," he said.

This sleight of hand deliberately underplays the 28,000 job cuts in the Surat basin, acknowledged last year by the industry as it moved from construction to operation mode.

QGC managing director Tony Hunan said: "The Charlie development will help to sustain the benefits of our investment in local communities and the state, including up to 1600 construction jobs and business opportunities during the two-year project."

This is minor recompense for job losses in agriculture, not to mention the environmental and social considerations. The project involves 300-400 wells, a large compression station and associated pipeline and facilities.

The announcement of the QGC expansion coincided with the latest discussion paper from the Australia Institute, which shows that local businesses in unconventional gas regions in Queensland believe that gas development led to deterioration in their finances, local infrastructure, social connections and labour force skills.

The analysis of mostly gas industry-funded research also highlights survey results by the CSIRO that found less than a quarter of people living in unconventional gas regions approved of the industry and that only 6% thought it would change their region for the better.

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