Forum fires up coal seam gas debate

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Forum fires up coal seam gas debate

Postby HVPA_research » Sun Nov 28, 2010 10:18 pm

Another great article from James Nason. Forum fires up coal seam gas debate. The following quotes highlight the most important parts of the article.

HOW can governments approve mining developments if they don't understand what the impacts will be?

That was the recurring question asked by scientists, farm representatives, environmentalists and lawyers at a public forum held in Brisbane last Monday night to discuss the coal seam gas (CSG) industry.

The forum, organised by the Australian Conservation Foundation, was the latest example of a strengthening alliance between farming and environmental groups over the impacts of mining.

A crowd of 300 people, including landholders, environmentalists and University of Queensland students, filled the Abel Smith lecture theatre at the university's St Lucia campus to hear speakers from all sides of the CSG debate.

Environment and Resources Minister, Stephen Robertson, sent his apologies, as did deputy-leader of the Opposition, Lawrence Springborg.

That left Greens senator-elect, Larissa Waters, as the only politician in attendance, and she didn't miss the chance to hit home her message that the Greens were the only political force actively campaigning for protection of agriculture in the face of massive mining developments.

"I am a bit disappointed that I am the only politician here," Ms Waters said in her opening statement.

"Perhaps that is because they back the coal industry and not the farmers."

An environmental lawyer by profession, Ms Waters criticised the Queensland Government's approval of mining developments before questions about their large potential impacts had been answered, and its decision to adopt an "adaptive" management approach instead.

"I have a lot of difficulty with adaptive management, which says 'let's approve it, if they muck it up, they can make good'," she said.

"Well how do you make good?

"When the groundwater table drops, how do you fix that?

"We don't know that yet, and until we can be sure that is not going to happen, we shouldn't be full steam ahead on this industry."

She said the Greens would continue to push for a moratorium until more science surrounding CSG impacts was known.

However, she said the Greens senators could only exercise their balance of power in the Senate if the big parties disagreed.

"Unfortunately so far on CSG, both major parties are right in bed with the coal industry, and we're the only ones speaking out," she said.

"So we need you guys to do your job and tell your representatives that you want them to represent you better on these issues."

Former Department of Natural Resources and Mining scientist, Dr John Stanley, told the forum that the areas of richest agricultural land in Queensland - the Darling Downs and South East - were subjected to most intensive coverage of mining leases in the State.

It was "extraordinary" that such valuable food-producing land was being placed at risk when world populations were escalating and global freshwater reserves and agricultural land was disappearing, Dr Stanley said.

University of Queensland Emeritus Professor, Clive Bell, a former executive director of the Australian Centre for Mineral Extension and Research, said it was virtually impossible for mining companies to restore cracking clay vertisol soils to their original productivity after mining.

The only examples where mining companies had been known to have successfully rehabilitated land after open cut coal mining all involved returning land to native vegetation or grazing, not farming.

"To my knowledge, nowhere in Australia have vertisol soils supporting prime agriculture been reinstated to prior productivity," Dr Bell said.

Dr Bell said no mining should be approved on quality vertisol agricultural soils until energy companies could prove through peer-reviewed research that it was possible to successfully rehabilitate these soils.

"Evidence from Europe and the US indicates that such research would take as a minimum six to eight years," he said.

"It is my belief that such research would show that the probability of achieving original productivity after mining would not be high."

Former Queensland Government hydro-geologist, John Hillier, reasserted his view that direct connectivity existed between the Walloon Coal Measures and the Condamine Alluvium.

"As you dewater the Walloons, it will create a reverse gradient and we could lose a lot of water from the Condamine Alluvium into the Walloon Coal Measures," he said.

"I am not going to say it is going to be fast and I am not going to say how much it is, but there is the potential for loss."

Mr Hillier said that in theory, mining companies should be able to drill new bores through the various layers of the Great Artesian Basin without causing leakage or cross-contamination.

However, when the sheer number of planned wells was taken into account - anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 wells according to estimates given at the forum - the potential for man-made problems to occur was significant.

"I think there is a fair chance that some of those bores will go wrong despite the best attempts and this is where the biggest problem in this whole area comes," Mr Hillier said.

Mr Hillier also questioned the value of groundwater models developed by the State Government to predict potential impacts of CSG mining, when the baseline knowledge of permeability levels and time series data required to effectively calibrate the models was unlikely to ever be known.

"You can only model what you know," Mr Hillier said.

Ian Hayllor from the Basin Sustainability Alliance said that if half the water relied upon by existing users of water from the Walloon Coal Measures was drained by CSG extraction, and replacement water had to be trucked in, the job would require more than 130,000 road trains of water per year.

"That is the real problem with make good - it's easy to say, but hard to do," Mr Hayllor said.

Ross Dunn from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association said the CSG industry was transparent and government regulations were effective.

He also questioned the extent to which the Walloon Coal Measures and the Condamine Alluvium were connected, suggesting that if levels of connectivity were extensive, the high water pressures within the Walloon Coal Measures would not be present, nor would the gas be present.
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