Report examines CSG effects

A new report has concluded grazing is most suitable to co-exist with coal seam gas and “tight” gas production.

“A balanced coexistence of mining and other forms of agriculture is possible, but requires careful management,” the report said.

“For this reason, good bioregional planning and assessment is an absolutely fundamental issue that requires priority attention.”

The report, written by previous chief of CSIRO Land and Water Division Dr John Williams, noted irrigated and cropping agriculture would not be suitable for coexistence, the Gippsland Times reports.

The report concentrates on Queensland and New South Wales. Williams pointed out Queensland was the first state to get legislation to safeguard its cropping land.

The legislation’s intent was to find a way for resources, agriculture and urban development to work together.

“In NSW, a similar approach has been adopted,” he said.

One magazine, Irrigation Australia labelled the report as the most independent, objective country-wide study ever on the science of coal seam gas and unconventional gas in Australia.

CSG has brought $60 billion in investment in new Queensland projects and has created about 10,000 jobs in the past year.

The report covers coal seam gas, shale gas and tight gas. Williams made three important conclusions in the report.

First, he said there are serious environmental hazards, especially for water resources. Secondly, he said unconventional gas requires regulation of land use like anything else and should not be seen as a ‘bogeyman’.

Third, he said while there are definite economic gains for regions and the state, it also involves social and economic consequences, which local governments, individuals and the community have to face.

“Economic diversification leveraged off the energy boom is essential to the long-term wellbeing of regional communities,” Williams said.

CSG has been the subject of many protests and opposition, with anti-CSG activists arguing there is insufficient scientific evidence it will not affect water tables, the environment and the health of communities residing by wells.

CSG and other unconventional gas require hydraulic fracturing, or fraccing to extract the gas trapped by rocks.

“The pressure required to fracture…without impacting on other aquifers requires careful management…and progressive monitoring and reporting,” Williams said.

Renewable natural resources such as water and aquatic ecosystems, biodiversity, landscape and land use for forestry and food could be threatened by CSG or shale.

“These issues…are increasingly well understood by the gas industry peak bodies,” he said.

According to Williams, CSG could mean clearing of bushland, disruption to native vegetation, increased fire hazard and increase of invasive animals.

Dewatering for CSG could also impact wetlands and groundwater-dependent ecosystems.

But Williams countered this by saying the effects “are usually smaller than the historical impacts of land clearing for agriculture or urban development”.

“Nevertheless, further loss of an already highly fragmented vegetation cover or reserves…can be a significant threatening process,” he said.

Apex Energy was recently refused permission to drill 16 exploration wells within Illawarra water catchment areas.

It came as the NSW Planning Assessment Commissions said more studies were needed on the impact of CSG activities on drinking water.

Santos exiting chairman Peter Coates recently said the company needs to focus more on educating communities on the positive effects of natural gas.

Williams said unconventional gas ventures would always have to vie for land, infrastructure and water with agricultural, urban and other contenders, but said only those uses that can preserve the land should be permitted.

He also said the thresholds of landscape should be well known and only those projects that do not exceed the threshold should be permitted.

“We argue that adoption of a knowledge-based, long-term regional strategic land-use planning approach for CSG (and other developments) regulation should help avoid perverse outcomes.”

“Our recommendations require a whole-of-system analysis, and…new methods and thinking such as cumulative risk assessment.”

The NSW Government made changes to CSG regulation earlier this year, prohibiting all activity within two kilometres of residential and industry areas.

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