Gas, gas, gas, it’s actually no laughing matter
Australia’s burgeoning liquified natural gas industry is no laughing matter for Central Queensland farmers faced with falling property prices and a growing maze of gas wells on prime agricultural land.
With the recent green light for two controversial multi-billion dollar LNG projects, and a third granted conditional State Government approval this week, a national land rights organization has urged landholders to exercise “extreme caution” in dealing with gas exploration ventures.
Many farmers themselves are madder than Jumping Jack Flash and threatening a “Lock the Gate” campaign.
The warning from Property Rights Australia, a non-profit group dedicated to protecting landowners’ interests, follows Environment Minister Tony Burke’s approval of ground-breaking liquefied natural gas projects worth $30 billion.
These were subject to 300 environmental conditions, including planned testing of the underground water supplies essential to farmers.
The coal seam development projects are the first of several proposals involving gas liquification plants on environmentally- sensitive Curtis Island in Gladstone Harbour. They require drilling thousands of wells in the Surat and Bowen basins, with the gas piped hundreds of kilometres to Gladstone for conversion to LNG and shipping.
Industry groups claim the two ventures - Gladstone Liquefied Natural Gas project and British Gas Group’s Queensland Curtis LNG project – will eventually create up to 18,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Opponents say the real number will be much less. They also claim the liquification plants pose a threat to endangered wildlife, including the rare snubfin dolphin and dugongs, as well as a safety risk to Gladstone residents.
Meanwhile a third gas project gained conditional approval this week, with the State Government boasting the LNG industry had “really gained momentum”.
Premier Anna Bligh announced that the Australia Pacific Liquified Natural Gas project had been approved by Co-ordinator General Graeme Newton.
Also based in Gladstone, the project has a life of 30 years and is subject to about 600 conditions, including a massive local housing development, but it still needs Commonwealth approval.
Water containing salt and other contaminants is a by-product of the gas extraction. Traces of benzene have also been found in some wells, and property owners in the gas fields are concerned at possible damage to the vital Great Artesian Basin underground supplies.
PRA chairman and Central Queensland grazier Mr Ron Bahnisch, said yesterday the organization would back any calls for a moratorium on gas projects by other lobby groups such as AgForce.
His warning to property owners follows the release of the Queensland Government’s Standard Conduct and Compensation Agreement applying to coal seam gas exploration..
“As in the Vegetation Management debacle, there is a risk of landowners’ personal wealth being redistributed to other sections of the community, some to overseas shareholders.
“PRA’s advice to landowners is to proceed with extreme caution and use all the advice available from lawyers and accountants, as all the expense involved is recoverable” Mr Bahnisch said.
His statement follows a PRA meeting addressed by an independent consultant who described the new agreement as a virtual “wish list” for the gas companies. One clause would apparently allow the tenement holder (exploration company) to unilaterally make unlimited changes to activities specified in the agreement, such as from exploration to gas production.
“Full disclosures of levels of development need to occur, with any escalation of activities subject to negotiation,” Mr Bahnisch said.
“The government uses the precautionary principle to stop developments on northern Wild Rivers with consequent reduced opportunities for indigenous employment, but won’t stop a very real threat to the integrity of the Artesian Basin.
“At the very least, the water balance must be preserved. Water out must equal water re-injected.
He said the ‘Make good provisions’ for irreparably damaged water supplies would seem impossible to deliver, “except in exceptional circumstances.”
It would be “perfectly understandable” for farmers concerned at the prospect of food production land being permanently damaged by short-term gas extraction, to contemplate “a peaceful non-cooperation campaign”.
“PRA believes that if the two industries can’t co-exist on prime agricultural land, the prior rights of agriculture must prevail,” Mr Bahnisch said.
If these rights were not upheld, the organization understood why disadvantaged landowners would support a developing “Lock the Gate “ campaign.
Surat basin grazier and PRA vice-chairman Lee McNicholl added that uncertainty surrounding the gas ventures had resulted in “only a handful” of property sales throughout the Basin in the past six months.
“It is really eroding property values in the area, as you don’t know what you are in for,” he said.
“I would not want to be living in Gladstone anywhere near the liquification plants. If they go off it would be like a nuclear bomb,” he said.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…