From the Ground Up: Are we fracked?
YouTube of the entire Forum now on line
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9.
On the 29th of September some 150 concerned South Australians packed the Bradley Forum at the Hawke Centre to engage with each other and an expert panel regarding the impacts of the coal seam gas industry on vital shared resources and human health.
Attendees representing a broad mix of government, NGOs, students, industry and concerned citizens heard from twelve expert panellists about what coal seam gas development has meant in Queensland and NSW, where rapid self-regulated growth of the industry has created deep community concern. We heard of how farmers and environmentalists joined forces in the Lock the Gate Alliance to express their outrage at the power the industry has been granted to proceed even in the face of strong opposition.
Event organiser Professor Diane Bell of the River Lakes and Coorong Action Group said, ‘In South Australia we do not yet have coal seam gas mining but the potential exists and there is much to be learned from our colleagues in NSW and Queensland. The Forum is about connecting the people, places and knowledges across the Murray-Darling, Lake Eyre and Great Artesian Basins.’
It was clear from a viewing of the informative posters and maps on display at the Forum that coal seam gas is only one form of unconventional gas to be found in our state. Do South Australians realise what large areas of land in the north of our state are currently being explored for development of coal seam gas, shale gas, and coal gasification projects?
‘These are some of the largest areas of pristine wilderness to be found not only in our state, but in the world,’ the Wilderness Society’s Peter Owen pointed out as he demonstrated the intensity of development plans for mining in the NE of the state. ‘The iconic Simpson Desert needs to be protected. Some places are just too precious to mine - the Simpson Desert is one of them.’
Several panelists addressed the connectivity issue. Unconventional gas development threatens not only these remaining untouched places, but also the precious groundwater resources of the Great Artesian Basin. Until we know a great deal more about linkages between the Great Artesian and Murray-Darling Basins, panelists advocated extreme caution in how we proceed. Impacts on ground water may not be immediately visible and indeed may not be known with any certainty until many decades into the future.
Conservation Council of South Australia Chief Executive Tim Kelly said, ‘The industry justifies its existence on the basis that gas is a clean energy source, but these claims are not well supported. How ever it is sourced, gas is always a fossil fuel with greenhouse impacts, and the more unconventional the gas, the more greenhouse-intensive it is likely to be. The industry is not transparent about what methodology it uses to calculate its emissions and unfortunately Australia’s greenhouse accounting methods have large loopholes that allow industry claims to go unchallenged. The federal government even uses the same misleading terminology as the industry, referring to gas as clean in its new climate change legislation.’
Dr Andrew Kremor, General Manager of Energy Projects at Santos, was quick to point out that, as a company, they wanted to work with the community; that they had been mining for 15 years in accordance with the law and; that they were welcomed back to properties where they had mined.
In the open Q&A session, a number of people pursued the long terms health impacts and were not satisfied by the assertion that all chemicals used in the various processes were subject to regulation.
Both Senators Sarah Hanson-Young and Nick Xenophon argued the need for federal regulation of the industry and pointed out that the moment was right for action in Canberra with an unlikely group of politicians from across the political spectrum wanting to see land holders have greater rights over their land and the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation (EPBC) Act to have greater control over ground water.
Campaigners from the Caroona Action Group (NSW), Lock the Gate (Qld) and GetUp! shared their concerns and strategies with the South Australian action group and it is clear we have much to learn.
Following the Forum, the River, Lakes and Coorong Action Group, The Wilderness Society and the Conservation Council SA expressed their joint support for a halt to any further development of coal seam and other unconventional gas until far better information is available. The groups called for an independent assessment of the full range of impacts associated with all stages of unconventional gas development, from exploration right through to combustion. They indicated that this must include investigation of:
- Human health and environmental impacts associated with the chemicals used and brought to the surface in the fracking process;
- Impacts on adjoining aquifers and how this may affect access to water for human consumption, ecosystems and agriculture;
- A life cycle assessment of the greenhouse emissions of coal seam gas.he groups also cautioned that these impacts must not be looked at in isolation, but cumulatively, which is how the impacts play out in reality.
More below and for photographs
YouTube of Forum? Stayed tuned. It is on the way