The Lock the Gate Alliance has told a Queensland parliamentary committee there could be long-lasting negative consequences for rural Queensland if changes to the Water Act are passed.
Lock the Gate spokesman, Drew Hutton said the State Government must not give “a blank cheque to the mining industry” to drain the lifeblood of rural communities and industries.
He said the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (the Water Reform Bill) would largely exempt coal and gas companies from the requirement to buy underground water licences by which every other water user is bound.
The Bill would give coal mines unlimited entitlement to remove billions of litres of groundwater that flow into open cut pits, with no need to secure water licences.
“This means mining companies would have privileged status and water planning to maintain our precious groundwater will not apply to the water they have to remove to get at the coal,” he said.
Coal seam gas operators in the Surat Basin already enjoy this unlimited entitlement and local bore owner, George Bender has seen the effect of large-scale removal of water by companies that are not required to adhere to water planning limits.
Mr Bender, a Chinchilla cotton farmer, is about to lose two of his precious underground water bores that are being sucked dry by coal seam gas industry activities.
His bores are among 85 in the Walloon Coal Measures that are predicted to run dry by mid next year as a direct result of the CSG industry. The gas companies want to put up to 18 gas wells on Mr Bender’s land. A further 528 bores will also be impacted in the longer term.
“We’ll be living in a gasfield, it’s as simple as that,” he said. “The cards seemed stacked in favour of the resources industry with landholders left to suffer the impacts of coal seam gas exploration and mining with little recourse and few rights.
“You’ve got to agree to their terms or else. I reckon it’s just all one-sided for the resources companies. It will completely interfere with the running of the property but that doesn’t seem to matter as long as they get wells in and get the gas out of the ground.”
Mr Hutton said the Bill would extend this “calamitous largesse” to coal mining companies as well, impacting landholders in the Galilee Basin and Bowen Basin.
“Farmers and graziers that feed Queensland and are part of social and economic fabric of the state are expected to comply with laws and regulations developed for the common good of all, but have their rights and freedoms trampled by a Government determined to privilege the mining industry above all others."