CSG Miners Have a Fracking Field Day

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(4 votes)

What could easily play like a scene from Hollywood biopic Erin Brockovich, is the ever-evolving case of: the Coal Seam Gas mining giants versus the people.

As a natural gas, CSG is said to be cleaner for the environment, lighter on the hip-pocket and is unarguably improving the country’s financial stature ten-fold. It’s a viewpoint many pro-CSG bodies, including gas and oil companies and some politicians, would like you to believe but this is not a bi-partisan case.

Since 1990, the process of Hydraulic Fracturing, the resulting production of Coal Seam Gas, and its consequential effects on the environment, and our own health have caused quite a divide; over two decades later minimal progress has been made.

As a mining process ‘Hydraulic Fracturing’, otherwise known as ‘Fracking’, is the most common method used to increase the production from a CSG well, which requires drilling a - demi-sized basketball court - hole and installing a vast network of pipelines, in order to extract natural gas from rock.

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Although the technological side of Hydraulic Fracturing is well known, the industry is “investing more than $60 billion in the development of their export facilities,” the environmental impacts are less well characterised reports the CSIRO.

Increased CSG activity, mostly in Queensland and New South Wales, has caused an increase in the use of hydraulic fracturing, and campaign manager for Newcastle’s Wilderness Society, Naomi Hogan, is one of many opposing figures. She is campaigning for “a pause on the industry so Health Impact Assessments and baseline data gathering can be conducted.”

Though Coal Seam Gas is the option du jour for a public hungry for cheap sources of fuel, Hogan is concerned about its dangerous impact on the environment and the population. The CSG “drilling techniques have been shown to lead to methane migration, where the trapped gases escape to the surface during or after drilling,” polluting our air and water supplies, explains the campaign manager.

While the director of communications at the Queensland Resources Council, Jim Divine, contends, “natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel than coal,” a University of Queensland study into a coal seam gas field in Tara, Queensland detected dangerously high fugitive gases, namely methane and carbon dioxide, compared to those outside the fracking field.

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Energy economics researcher Professor John Foster found that gas-fired generation reduced emissions only marginally, further solidifying the stance that coal seam gas is no better for the environment than the conventional coal-fired gas.

If coal seam gas is as green as the mining industry makes out, we’re not surprisingly led to question their generous $1 billion contribution to low emissions technology development in Australia, as well as their opposition to industry regulation.

Queensland Director of Communications, Jim Divine, understands that the amendment is an important move for governments to take in ensuring environmental sustainability, however, the hostility felt towards those such as the recent EPBC Water Trigger bill, comes from a belief that it was politically-inspired rather than environmentally so.

Queensland Resources Council Chief Executive Michael Roche share is belier and worries what it will do to the country’s import/export status: “This is just another layer of bureaucracy simply adding to our global reputation as a prohibitively expensive and complicated place to do business.” Although currently covered by more than 1,500 federal and state regulations, Naomi believes that the sheer scale of the mining industry means that these “scant environment laws” coupled with the “numerous loopholes put the driller in control.”

But money doesn’t talk, it keeps tight-lipped, and as the oil and gas industries promise to deliver an estimated $13 billion in royalties and taxes by 2020, a search for the truth is no small feat. In the rural and regional areas, where most of the fracking activity is taking place, affected residents are reassessing their rusty National party allegiance, due to a worryingly “close connection between many former National and Liberal politicians who now hold top positions within the mining industry,” reveals campaign manager Naomi Hogan.

This interesting shift in perspective, coupled with a bevy of support from the Australian Greens, Katter's Australian Party, the Socialist Alliance and the Stop CSG Party, and to a smaller extent the Democratic Labour Party, is a step in the right direction for Anti-CSG communities.

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Though witnessing firsthand the treatment of NSW residents by major mining companies, Hogan struggles to see the light at the end of the tunnel: “I know of a situation in NSW where local landholders are in a position where they live near coal seam gas activities and their groundwater, their only water supply, has being condemned by gas drillers Santos as unfit for use. The industry has been operating, drilling and fracking within a couple of kilometres of the water source, but Santos accepts no liability and blames sheep and a septic tank.”

Hogan goes on to explain that with the government nowhere to be seen, distressed locals are expected to raise the alarm, solid evidence in tow, to prove that the industry is at fault - an unfair ask for those with limited resources and experience.

Director of Communications at the Queensland Resources Council, Jim Divine, paints a contrasting picture over 700 KMs away, affirming that Queensland landholders “receive financial compensation at every step of the process: from exploration to production.”

In NSW, Naomi Hogan is detecting a lack in protocol, as gas company Santos proposes “to pull up millions of litres of contaminated water from the coal seams with no produced water treatment plan,” and while Divine can not comment on issues in NSW, he maintains that all coal-seam gas companies are required to ensure a beneficial use for produced water, with “most entering into agreements to supply farmers with treated water for irrigation” that essentially ‘drought-proofs’ their properties.
 
Responsible for putting some 27,000 people in jobs, the mining industry has instigated an exponential increase in trade turning Australia into a financial heavy-weight, yet with today’s falling commodity prices companies are slashing billions from development and exploration, and cutting thousands from their workforce.

Nursing revenue worries, Boart Longyear has reduced its workforce size from 11,440 to just 7147 but the digging continues, the need for vigilance is needed now more than ever. While the Committee for Economic Development of Australia associates water supply contamination and “seismic activity and tremors with the drilling and fracking process,” Queensland Resources Council’s Jim Divine warns, “while you can never guarantee outcomes, risk management is central to any resource development.”

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Is the mining boom in Australia over?

Is the mining boom in Australia over?

No, it's just media hype.
Yes as a result of lower demand.
Still plenty of resources.
There will be a second boom.
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