Take a breather, Palmer tells CSG sector

Mining magnate Clive Palmer came out with a statement saying Australia’s coal seam gas industry should slow down until more research is done on its impact.

The businessman and politician called on the CSG industry to hold back until there is more knowledge on its effects on people and the environment.

“Let’s take a breather on the coal seam gas industry,” Palmer said.

“Lives are a lot more important than the extraction of coal seam gas.”

Palmer’s comments come as Queensland’s Newman government abolished Labor’s Wild Rivers Act, which will allow coal seam gas, oil and shale gas exploration in the Channel Country.

The Australian reported yesterday the Queensland Resources Council was happy with the decision as it could open avenues to “world-class” resource.

Palmer’s remarks contradict with his own business ventures, particularly his nickel refinery near Townsville.

The nickel plant has used CSG for power since BHP Billiton owned it in around 2006. The use of CSG has grown since Palmer has owned it.  

The nickel plant has used CSG for power since BHP Billiton owned it in around 2006. The use of CSG has grown since Palmer has owned it.  

The Queensland Nickel website states: “Coal seam methane gas has recently been introduced to various parts of the Refinery.

“The gas is an environmentally friendlier and safer energy source – reducing CO2 production and using new safety-instrumented systems and burner management systems. There are plans to expand the use of coal seam methane gas further in the plant in the future.”

When asked about this contradiction, Palmer said the comparison is not applicable.

“It’s to do with coal seam gas development; that’s an already developed area,” he said.

An independent report on NSW coal seam gas activities released this week saying the state’s government and gas industry have major challenge ahead if they continue expanding the state’s gas production capabilities.

Chief scientist and engineer Professor Mary O’Kane said there are many community apprehensions about CSG and recommended harsher regulation, increased penalties for violations and more environmental research.

Palmer is contesting in Federal Parliament this year representing under the Palmer United Party. The SMH reports his remarks are an attempt to appeal to rural voters in NSW.

“This report raises serious questions about human health, the effects on the environment and water in particular, landholders’ legal rights and industry regulation and compliance,” he said.

“All governments and companies involved should put their personal interests on hold and support a thorough investigation into these concerns.”

The NSW rural community are anxious the state could see a replication of Queensland’s CSG boom.

The NSW Planning Assessment Commission recently rejected Apex Energy’s big to drill 16 exploration wells within the Illawarra water catchment areas. It said it will not give approval until the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer’s review on the impacts and the state government’s resulting policy decisions were made.

Santos exiting chairman Peter Coates recently had to answer a barrage of questions about the environmental impacts of its CSG operations from farmers and shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting.

Coates said the company needs to better educate communities about the positive impacts.

“We do recognise that there is community concern around coal seam gas,” Coates said.

“And we recognise that we have to do a better job with demonstrating to the public that coal seam gas operations can have a positive impact on farming, and minimal and sometimes positive impact on water.”

Many others in the industry expressed similar sentiment, with Origin Energy chief executive Grant King saying communities are not open to facts about CSG and many are spreading mistruths.

“"To the extent where people who are opposed, who are not interested in those answers because the basis of their opposition is not about those facts, that is where the greatest concern is – because they are then happy to propagate misrepresentations.

"My biggest concern is not the facts of the matter, it's that there is clearly a small group of people who have an ideological opposition to what is happening and who don't feel bound to that same level of facts that we do,” he said.

Managing director of BG Group’s Australian subsidiary QGC, Derek Fisher concurred, and said the industry misjudged the extent of misinformation spread by opposition groups, particularly the “exaggerated” claims CSG would contaminate water tables and harm prime farming land.

"This is probably the most regulated industry in Australia and has had so much light shone on it that it's sunburnt — but this has not been enough for our critics," he said.

Palmer spoke at the National Party’s federal council in Canberra in 2011, where he said there continues to be debates surrounding the effects of the CSG industry.

“I’ve had [talks] with overseas companies that do extract coal seam gas and are in operations and are using different technologies.

“They’re concerned that maybe the people who are doing it in Australia are not as skilled, not as well trained, and do not have the same technological background that they do,” Palmer said.

Yet Palmer contradicted his statements later, coming out to support the industry.

“Let me be clear, I do support the CSG industry. It is good for this country, and particularly good for Queensland.

“However the Queensland Government and participating mining companies must commit to the best technologies and practices to ensure there is no risk to the environment or human health.”

Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and QGC managing director Derek Fisher recently told the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association annual conference in Brisbane the CSG industry should fight back against the greens movement and find new ways of dealing with 'misinformation' by protestors.

 “This is probably the most regulated industry in Australia and has had so much light shone on it that it’s sunburnt,” Fisher told delegates.

CSG protests took a violent turn in Queensland this year with a coal seam gas protestor and QGC contractor coming to blows at a blockage near Tara.

Three gun shots were fired in the area a couple of days later.

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