Sometimes you get a really disturbing feeling that our governments have stupidly declared war on the environment and the people who are an integral part of it, which in this case means not only farmers but all the rest of us who need food and fresh water. A new mining ‘gold rush’ is on for coal seam gas in NSW, where it constitutes 4% of gas supplies (compared to 88% in QLD).
The Crown holds mining rights under everywhere, and Her Maj has allocated mining and exploration licences under some of our prime farming land, including the very productive Liverpool Plains. Against farmers’ wishes drilling rigs arrive and get to business. The extraction process consequences are unproven, with possible pollution of ground water & aquifers, as it uses toxic chemicals to fracture coal beds to release the gas, in a process thus known as fracking. The resulting mix of chemicals and saline water has then to be handled somehow. The drastic effects of this process were shown in the US film ‘Gasland’, where landscapes are dotted with drilling rigs.
As George Wilkenfeld, a Sydney energy & water policy consultant explained recently, drilling has to be continuous to maintain field production; and he outlined the unacceptable risks involved with an energy source which we don’t really need anyway. CSG extraction is very different from ‘natural gas’, which has a track record of proper management.
The threat of drilling even extended to inner Sydney St Peters, where residents recently demonstrated en masse against planned prospection under their houses and parklands. Even more scandalous is the NSW government granting a licence to Apex Energy to drill under Sydney’s water catchment area. Truly unbelievable! Worse than Dart Energy’s licence near Wollemi National Park.
Meantime, the NSW government’s submission to the Legislative Council’s ‘NSW Coal Seam Gas Enquiry’ extols the essential role for CSG in meeting NSW’s energy needs, with a “balanced co-existence of mining and agriculture….(which) necessitates appropriate management and assessment requirements on CSG and mining activities”. Weasel words to say that they are going ahead without knowing the consequences of fracking, and without the Enquiry’s findings. And to boot, the government is relying on ‘confidential’ data supplied by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association consultants to prove that CSG carbon emissions are so much lower…. puh-lease! Whatever happened to the cautionary principle of risk management?
The final observation on this disgusting state of affairs is to state the bleeding obvious – we live on the world’s driest continent, with a dismal track record of abusing our water resources. If we can’t protect our greatest natural treasures, those mysterious aquifers, and our river systems, then we deserve to be well and truly fracked! Meantime, we continue to suck it all up, including the greed, political cynicism & expediency. And a related subject for another day: ignoring the real possibility that we can satisfy Australia’s total energy needs from renewables, including the oft-cited baseload power requirements.