For the love of country

Outside Queensland Parliament House in February. Credit: Aswas Photography

As the newly-elected Queensland state parliament met for the first time on February 14, a small group of dedicated Protectors from Families Against Fossil Fuels and Standing with Sandi held their regular #StandAgainstCSG protest outside its doors.

Sandra Bamberry (Sandi) is the mother of two little girls who have experienced negative health impacts, including ongoing nosebleeds and nausea, from the many coal seam gas (CSG) mines that now surround their home on the Tara gasfields.

After being fobbed off by official channels and pleading on ABCs Q&A for government action on the high lead contamination of her water supply, Sandi started standing outside Queensland parliament on her own.

Hearing her story inspired other Protectors to start Standing with Sandi and all gas-affected residents. Protectors have been standing outside Queensland Parliament while parliament sits since October 2016. 

Sandi told protectors outside parliament: “The government is failing the people of the gas fields. They misrepresent the impacts to the communities while pushing the industry onto more and more landholders. People do not want to live in gas fields.”

Farmers’ concerns

As well as falling air and water quality, land prices have dropped considerably since Tara became a gasfield. Like Sandi, many people cannot afford to move, trapped by a mortgage on now devalued land.

Farmers and residents have been appealing to governments for many years, but their concerns are stifled by red tape and buck-passing. Legal challenges are expensive and drawn out. 

Chinchilla farmer George Bender fought to keep the coal seam gas industry away from his land for a decade. In a 2014 Senate inquiry he said: “The government has provided the CSG companies with all the power, leaving an individual farmer to protect himself against multinational companies … This situation the government has created leaves the process open for bullying, intimidation and potential corruption.”

Bender took his own life, aged 68, after 10 stressful years of being bullied by CSG companies and fruitless battling against the industry and the government.

All three tiers of government hold a duty of care to the public and ought to be exercising a precautionary principle towards the coal and gas industries. Self-regulation has proven neither effective nor appropriate for these dirty, highly polluting, short-term gain, long-term damage industries that do not care what or where they pollute for their narrow, selfish aims.

Government-approved CSG mining areas include the basins of Gunnedah, Cooper, Eromanga, Warburton, Adavale, Bowen, the Surat, the Clarence-Moreton, Gloucester, Sydney, Gippsland, Bass and Otway. Most of the area covered by the highest CSG producing wells in the Eastern Gas Market is directly within the Great Artesian Basin. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/factbox-csg-in-australia

Fracking

The Great Artesian Basin is the largest and deepest artesian basin in the world. It covers almost a quarter of the continent and provides the only source of fresh water through much of inland Australia. This precious and ancient water source is in danger from the harmful effects of hydraulic fracking or fracking.

Fracking is a method of extracting gas. It involves drilling down into the ground and injecting water, sand and chemicals into the rock at high pressure. This creates a network of small fractures in the rocks, releasing gas that moves into the water stream and is pumped or carried to the surface.

Fracking uses vast quantities of water — up to 16 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water per well — with water licences given to mining companies at extremely low cost, while farmers, landowners and other water users pay through the nose.

This is outrageous in a dry country like Australia, where water is like gold inland and should be respected.

The chemicals used to enhance the fracking process end up in the waste water (produced water), which contains extremely high levels of salt, zinc, lead, manganese, iron and barium. This produced water is used for crop irrigation and livestock watering, contaminating the food chain.

The National Water Commission says “the production of large volumes of treated waste water, if released to surface water systems, could alter natural flow patterns and have significant impacts on water quality and river and wetland health”.

Other concerns include faulty holding ponds; leaking wells; uncapped wells; structural failure; dropped water tables; depressurised ground water; prolonged health issues; land price devaluation; rights of land access; compensation issues; destruction of Indigenous cultural sites of significance; sovereignty concerns; increased light pollution; and high fire risk.

Protector Lea Smouha said: “Governments don’t want to accept there’s anything amiss. They seem to think that the gas companies are using best possible practice, world’s best practice, which is a fallacy. It’s all lies and propaganda. It’s absolute spin by the fossil fuel companies. There have been no baseline studies done … It’s just negligent not to be looking into renewables.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2018-02-14/9447548

Protectors

Protectors and Climate Guardian Angels have been active in the fight against CSG for several years.

In early 2016, three were arrested when they locked on to the gates of Leewood CSG Waste Water Treatment Facility near Narrabri. They believe the government has a duty of care and should place human rights before corporate profits.

The lack of a separation of powers is a major concern, with the revolving door of ministers-turned-lobbyists enabling an undermining of the democratic process.

Australia has among the most controlled media in the world, with very few journalists prepared to act in the public interest by exposing abuses of power by government and corporate excess. We need to recognise our connection with Country, as the current neoliberal economic paradigm that treats life as a resource to be exploited is utterly unsustainable.

The people are always going to be dancing a dialogue with the state to reaffirm our basic human and social rights. It is up to us to make the state listen and to stand up.

As Protector Lea said: “People have the power. It is about love and commitment to the land, to the country, to each other, to water, to future generations. It’s all about love.”

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