Basin backers welcome Senate report into coal seam gas

Basin Sustainability Alliance welcomes water use in extractive industries report


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Maranoa grazier and BSA chair Lee McNicholl, who welcomed the senate report's findings.

Maranoa grazier and BSA chair Lee McNicholl, who welcomed the senate report's findings.

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The report cautioned against putting short-term gain over long-term agricultural and ecological needs.

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A grassroots movement concerned about the impact of coal seam gas developments on Queensland agriculture has been buoyed by the recent release of a joint parliamentary report.

Last month the Senate's environment committee released the results of a year-long inquiry looking at water use by extractive industries such as mining and coal seam gas. 

Several individuals raised concerns during the inquiry about unsustainable water extraction by coal seam gas companies working within the Great Artesian Basin

These submitters pointed to what they believed were regulatory loopholes within Queensland that were not present in other Australian jurisdictions. 

The Senate committee concluded that current Australian regulations did not properly value groundwater reserves, which are crucial to Queensland producers.

It also found that water use estimates for mining and gas activities did not account for the long-term impacts of water extraction. 

"The loss of groundwater-dependent and groundwater ecosystems... would be an irrevocable tragedy," the final report read.

"Figures estimating total water use of particular industries do not accurately represent the long-term impacts of changes to topography, aquifer structures or groundwater quality that arise from extractive industry activities."

The report also criticised the way water allocations were determined across Australia. 

“… there remains considerable room for improvement in terms of fair and equitable water allocation so that short-term economic gain does not outweigh the long-term water needs of agricultural users, rural, regional and remote communities and ecosystems.

“The needs of one industry should not be prioritised over the needs of other water users.”

One submitter to the inquiry was the Basin Sustainability Alliance, a grassroots group representing Queensland landholders who are concerned about groundwater depletion. 

Maranoa grazier and alliance chairman Lee McNicholl said he welcomed the Senate report, particularly the recommendation to widen the "water trigger" so that it covered unconventional gas extraction.

Large mining or coal seam gas developments that are likely to have a substantial impact on water resources must be approved by the responsible minister.

This approval process, known as the “water trigger”, does not currently apply to other extractive industries, Mr McNicholl said

"The water trigger currently only captures large coal mining and CSG proposals and ignores shale and tight gas extraction," he said.

"Insanely the Queensland government allows unlimited take of water by the resources sector," Mr McNicholl added. 

"It is the only Australian government to do so."

Last Friday state Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham announced more than 6,600 square kilometres of land would be opened for gas exploration in Queensland's Bowen and Surat Basins.

Mr McNicholl said opening the Surat Basin for coal seam gas would prove to be a short-sighted decision. 

"The [Basin Sustainability Alliance] suspects that the short sighted ill-informed politicians of the day will in the future be more pilloried than those that introduced the rabbit, prickly pear and the cane toad," he said.

"Once the [coal seam gas] industry takes the estimated four to five Sydney Harbour volumes from under the Surat Basin it is gone, gone, gone."

Responding to the Senate report, a spokesman for Queensland's Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy said all gas extraction activities were subject to "rigorous assessment”.

"In Queensland resource companies are required by law to have a 'make good agreement' in place with landholders whose existing groundwater entitlements might be impacted," the spokesman said. 

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