GASLAND - US doco sparks gas debate

Social, legal and health issues related to air and water toxic pollution in Australia.

GASLAND - US doco sparks gas debate

Postby HVPA_research » Wed Nov 10, 2010 10:52 am

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Here is a transcript of the discussion on ABC TV 7:30 report on Tuesday, 9 Nov 2010. We need to make some comments (styled in red) so that our side of the story is not lost in all the spin from the APPEA spokesman.

KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: There's further confirmation today that Australia is on the verge of a so-called gas-rush.

The Queensland government has given the green light to a third massive project to pipe coal seam gas hundreds of kilometres from inland wells to the port of Gladstone on the central Queensland coast.

There's growing world demand for gas, which is cleaner than coal and cheaper than oil.

But the sudden expansion of coal seam gas extraction in Queensland has pitted mining companies against farming communities, which are concerned about the impact this mining activity could have on underground aquifers.

There's been similar concerns in the US, which were recently documented in the prize-winning film Gasland, shown for the first time to an Australian audience in Brisbane last night.

Peter McCutcheon reports.

(Excerpt from Gasland documentary)

(Man holds a lighter to water running from a tap)

PETER MCCUTCHEON, REPORTER: It's a provocative and controversial scene from an award winning documentary.
(Flame suddenly flares up about a metre from the running water)

MAN: Whoa! Jesus Christ!

PETER MCCUTCHEON: According to film-maker Josh Fox, it demonstrates the threat posed by the US natural gas industry, apparently immune to environmental controls.

MAN ON DOCUMENTARY: I smell hair! Damn

(End of excerpt)

JOSH FOX, DOCUMENTARY MAKER: Place after place, time after time you see all these people who could light their water on fire - stories of just being completely upended, losing control over your life, over your land over your health.

(Excerpt from Gasland documentary)

(Water runs into a basin from a hose)

MAN: You're gonna see little pearls of stuff come out of it like oil...

(End of excerpt)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: What some see as a groundbreaking expose, the gas and petroleum industry see as thinly disguised propaganda.

ROSS DUNN, AUSTRALIAN PETROLEUM PRODUCERS AND EXPLORATION ASSOCIATION (APPEA): It lacks the hard evidence based research that you need to qualify for a documentary.

Well, it is up to the gas industry to convince us that they will do no harm to our health, to our land and to our water. They have the scientific resources and they have the money to do the research. The US unconventional gas industry has been operating for over twenty years and has not provided hard evidence that it was safe to the environment. It preferred to operate under "NO DATA - NO PROBLEM" scenario. How come that it took a film maker, Josh Fox and GASLAND, to start some serious research into the safety of hydraulic fracturing (see EPA's Current Hydraulic Fracturing Study (2010-2012))

PETER MCCUTCHEON: And the controversy has come to Australia, with the launch of the documentary Gasland in Brisbane.

The film is being shown at a critical time, with the recent approval of coal seam gas projects in Queensland, and a concerted campaign from environmentalists and farming groups to halt the industry's expansion.

JOSH FOX: There has been a steady stream of emails and Facebook entreaties and people screaming 'Please bring the film here! We're suffering, we're in trouble!'

WAYNE NEWTON, AGFORCE: As we've seen in the US experience, this seeking of dollars, this absolute necessity to raise money by state treasuries will sometimes over-ride good environmental practice.

(Excerpt from Gasland documentary - Man in a gas mask plays the banjo)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Gasland tells the story of how the Bush administration's deregulation of environmental laws in 2005 led to a rapid expansion of shale gas drilling across the United States.

And the result has been wide-spread pollution of water supplies in many rural communities.

(Excerpt from Gasland documentary)

MAN: Six states have documented over one thousand instances of ground water contamination.

WOMAN: It bubbles and hisses when it comes out.

(End of excerpt)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Josh Fox blames a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

JOSH FOX (from Gasland): It blasts a mixture of water and chemicals 8,000 feet into the ground. The fracking itself is like a mini-earth quake. The intense pressure breaks apart the rock and frees up the gas.

(Big boom)

ROSS DUNN: It's important to know that it has absolutely no relevance to the production and regulation of coal seam gas in Australia.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Ross Dunn is a spokesman for the industry body the Australian Petroleum Producers and Exploration Association.

He says the natural gas industry in Australia is very different to that of the US.

The gas extracted from the coal seam, not shale, fracking is not used as widely and the industry is subject to some of the toughest environmental conditions in the world.

ROSS DUNN: In Australia the industry is very transparent. We have a a lot of government regulation, a lot of environmental regulation. We have many processes which show that the industry is operating sustainably.

REALLY Ross Dunn? What is so different in Australia from the USA unconventional gas industry? Why are you trying to distance yourself from the American experience? The technology such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling is American, fracking companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger are America, fracking chemicals are US-made and even a lot of personalities in the CSG industry speak with the American accent.

How come that under "the some of the toughest environmental conditions in the world" the NSW Onshore Petroleum Act 1991 does not even mention coal seam gas, hydraulic fracturing or even methane is mentioned only once in conjunction with coal mining?

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Indeed, strict environmental conditions forced the shutting down of a pilot project earlier this year to produce gas under the ground by setting coal seams on fire.

This process - known as underground coal gasifiction - was believed repsonsible for the leaking of benzene into ground bores near Kingaroy.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON, QUEENSLAND MINES AND ENERGY MINISTER (August 2010): If this technology cannot be operated safely, then it has no future in Queensland.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: But another coal technology - extracting gas from the coal seam - has passed a number of environmental hurdles.

Last month the Federal Government approved two coal seams gas projects in Queensland, and Britain's BG groups announced it would expanding coal seam gas operations and build a 540 kilometre pipeline from the Surat Basin to the port of Gladstone.

CATHERINE TANNA, BG GROUP (October 31): We estimate that the project will increase economic activity in Queensland by 32 billion Australian dollars.

MARTIN FERGUSON, RESOURCES MINISTER (October 31): It is a new industry for Australia in terms of export opportunities. It is a first.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: And today the Queensland Premier announced a joint venture between Origin Energy and Conoco Philips had met the state's environmental conditions.

ANNA BLIGH, QUEENSLAND PREMIER: And with our third company now into the approval phase, this new industry is really gaining momentum.

(Calf moos)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: But many farmers whose land lies on top of these gas reserves are unimpressed.

The extraction of gas from the coal seam brings with it left-over salty water - and there concerns about the long term effect is will have on the Great Artesian Basin.

There has also been several cases of toxic hydrocarbons found in coal seam gas wells - although these ponds were isolated from aquifers and water streams.

WAYNE NEWTOWN: We have a whole new industry that is going to enter the scene and be allowed to extract a huge amount of water - could be up to 350,000 megalitres a year - from the Great Artesian Basin. And they just have open licence to do this.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Wayne Newton is a grain grower on Queensland's Darling Downs and the grains spokesman for Queensland's peak agriculture lobby group Agforce.

He's seen the Gasland documentary, and believes it has some relevance to an Australian audience.

WAYNE NEWTOWN: I think the real point of similarity is the conflict of interest that occurs within government.

These governments have huge conflicts with them being the single largest beneficiary of the revenue that's going to come from this industry.

ROSS DUNN: There is no other industry- I don't think any other industry in Australia is regulated to the extent that the coal seam gas industry is regulated.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: It was a sell out session for the documentary's Australian premier and the follow up Q and A session was sympathetic to the filmmaker.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can the film tour regionally? Becuase I know Palace doesn't have distribution areas in the West. Can you take the film out so people...

JOSH FOX: I think it's happening.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: In fact Josh Fox says he'll be taking his camera with him.

(to Josh Fox) So will we see Gasland Australia ?

JOSH FOX: I think so. I think so. I mean at least a segment of the next part of this, whether that's a full length feature film which is a sequel, or it’s a shorter follow up. Yeah, absolutely.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The are nearly 4,000 coal seam gas wells across rural Queensland at the moment. With the potential for this to increase nearly tenfold, the industry acknowledges it needs to do more work to bring rural communities on board.

(to Ross Dunn) Who do think is winning the PR at the moment?

ROSS DUNN: Well the industry... the industry has a lot of work to do and we know that.

The truth is that the coal seam gas industry initially managed to sneak into the rural Queensland under the radar and under false pretenses. However, as farmers and some environmentalists realiased what is CSG all about the opposition started to grow. It will grow with each new well, with each new dirt track and with each new pipeline. Local communities will eventually realise, despite the propaganda, that there is simply nothing in it for them. Ross Dunn is right - they have a lot of work to do but the spin will no longer work. They cannot sneak under the radar anywhere any more - people already know.


KERRY O'BRIEN: Peter McCutcheon reporting from Queensland.

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