PETROLEUM and gas developments, particularly coal seam and shale gas extraction, and whether they should have a place in Queensland's Channel Country, are the questions people are grappling with following an announcement on the future of western rivers by Natural Resources Minister Andrew Cripps in Longreach last week.
While the minister ruled out open-cut mining and capped water extraction as core principles in the new management framework being developed for the Georgina and Diamantina Rivers and Cooper Creek, to replace Wild Rivers legislation, his announcement did not ban gas activity. Instead, he said oil and gas development will be strictly controlled under strengthened conditions to be contained in the Environmental Protection Act.
"This will mean proposed petroleum and gas developments will be subject to stronger environmental conditioning than in any other part of Queensland," he said.
"A special Channel Country Protection Area will be created which will protect a greater area of riverine channels and flood plains than the existing Wild Rivers legislation.
AgForce, a member of the Western Rivers Advisory Panel set up to give Minister Cripps advice on how to proceed once it declared it would scrap Wild Rivers legislation in the region, has said it remains concerned about the development of petroleum and gas in the region and is keen to see the details of the additional protections for the Lake Eyre Basin still to be developed.
Mithaka traditional owner and LEB Ministerial Forum advisory committee member Scott Gorringe said he was concerned that the plan wasn't going to stop coal seam gas activity full stop.
"It will lead to above ground and underground water damage, through runoff and fracking," he said.
"AgForce and the graziers asked for a moratorium against this type of mining so this has gone against their wishes too. Grazing has always been the major industry in the region - now it looks as though the government wants to replace it with gas."
Mr Cripps said that petroleum and gas companies had been operating in the region since the 1960s and his government saw a future for it still.
"Our framework provides an opportunity for economic growth without compromising the environment, and we believe resource and grazing industries can coexist," he said.
He was backed up by WRAP member and Quilpie mayor Stuart McKenzie, who said that Wild Rivers hadn't offered any protection against gas activity.
"You could do it then and you still can now. They will have to meet all the requirements under the EPA, which is what should have happened in the first place."