As the spotlight on coal seam gas continues to flood the industry and the fear around the extraction process continues to grow, the world is questioning how necessary it is and how much damage is being caused.
Earlier this year, farmers in Queensland voiced their frustration over gas companies installing gas wells on their properties, saying landowners felt powerless against the major gas companies who were able to gain approvals to install wells close to homes and feed lots, up to 500 wells in some cases.
Senator Bill Heffernan, who is chairing a senate inquiry into coal seam gas extraction beginning in July told Australian Mining gas companies are using “cowboy regulation” in the David and Goliath battle against individual farmers.
“The present regulation of coal seam gas mining is wild western regulation,” he told Australian Mining
“If one farmer is against it, they go around them and literally surround them rather than taking them to court, so they then have no choice but to surrender.
“These companies are multi billion dollar companies with a global agenda and if they have the right to overpower the individual farmer.
Concerns surround the possible contamination of the groundwater and aquifers, and Marrian Lloyd-Smith, a government advisor on the issues, told the ABC she has grave concerns about the process.
“Of the 23 most commonly used compounds in fracking fluids, the national regulator, NICNAS, has only assessed two of those 23 and of the two that have been assessed, they weren’t assessed for their use in fracking fluids,” she said.
“So you can basically say of the 23 major chemicals used in this process, they have not been assessed by any national regulator.”
In May, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown accused Liberal and Labor senators of standing in the way of the party’s proposed senate enquiry into the coal seam gas (CSG) industry.
He also said senators from the National party split with their coalition partners and refused to vote.
"Australia’s tired old political parties blocked a move by the Greens for a stand-alone Senate inquiry into the coal seam gas industry," Brown said in a statement.
"The prospect of coal seam gas mines across the country – from the Kimberley to Queensland to Tasmania, encroaching on Sydney and broader NSW, as well as in South Australia – is truly appalling."
"There is a new urgency to assess the health impacts of the toxic materials used in the fracking process."
QLD government defends CSG regulations
Queensland Minister for Employment, Skills and Mining Stirling Hinchliffe has defended how the coal seam gas industry is regulated in the state.
“This Government’s position on the Coal Seam Gas and Liquefied Natural Gas industry is clear,” he told Australian Mining.
“It is a very important industry to Queensland forecast to bring up to $65 billion in investment and 18,000 jobs.”
“It will also help meet soaring worldwide demand for lower emission energy sources like gas-fired power.”
“We have introduced strict rules and regulations for the Coal Seam Gas industry to balance development of the industry with agriculture, the environment, landholder considerations and social impacts.”
Chair of the Basin Sustainability Alliance, Ian Hayllor says the community feels there may be a conflict of interest as the inquiry is being run by the same government who benefit from coal seam gas mining.
“We have to keep pressure up on them, there’s a lot of concern out there and overall experience is not good,” he told Australian Mining.
He says while regulations are getting better at controlling the industry, more needs to be done to ensure the safety of residents, aquifers and the environment.
“The coal seam gas industry has to get out there and prove to community that what they’re doing is different and problems won’t happen.”
Hinchcliffe has dismissed the accusations and maintains the state government is committed to safety of Queenslanders.
“The Queensland Government both regulates and collects taxes from many industries,” he said.
“Just like we collect revenue through things like liquor licensing permits, we also shut down operators who flout the rules.
“The same applies to operators in the CSG industry who don’t meet strict standards set by this Government.
“The truth is, the vast majority of CSG companies stick to the rules and many, many landholders are benefitting from payments for having CSG wells located on their land.”
Examining long-term damage
The senate inquiry into the coal seam gas industry being led by Senator Heffernan will examine how coal seam gas fracking is damaging aquifers and potentially leading to long-term issues.
Heffernan told Australian Mining that as the world population grows the need for food and water is being overshadowed by the need for energy.
“There is a serious focus globally on the energy task and less focus on the food task,” he said.
“The science prediction for 2050 is that barring a catastrophe, there will be 9 billion people on the planet and 50 per cent will be poor for water, as defined by water that will be high risk.”
“The world is obsessed with the global energy task and coal seam gas is part of that obsession; and we all take the food task for granted.
“The global energy task will be alright, science says we are looked after with the amount of coal, and solar and other sources.
“You can’t eat dividends and you can’t live on fuel.
“By 2050, what’s in your fridge is far more important than what is in your garage.
“The garage has options, the food doesn’t.”
An Origin Energy spokesperson told Australian Mining the company is aware of the senate inquiry and will be participating in the hearings.
Anglo Coal and Arrow Energy did not respond to questions but the representative body for the industry, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) told Australian Mining the hysteria surrounding coal seam gas extraction is not entirely justified.
APPEA CSG Director Ross Dunn said the chemicals used in the fracking process are no more dangerous than those found in most households.
“It’s very easy to bring up an unfounded fear campaign and instil fear in people,” he said.
“If you want a story in the media, everyone knows you scare them with a toxic chemical story.
“Any chemical is safe, as long as used for proper purposes.”
“Of the 2719 wells tested by the Queensland government 5 had leaks at a level to sustain a flame, and while that’s a small percentage it is still 5 too many.