Somerset Regional Council and local residents were shocked to be told by email just prior to Christmas that coal exploration drill rigs were moving into the Somerset Region from 25 December. The Queensland Government’s Acting Premier at the time also apparently ridiculed the Council for declaring a moratorium in early 2012 on coal mining and CSG exploration in the region. That declaration had followed an attempt by the previous Labor State Government to allow exploration in the area. The strength of public feeling at that time and information provided by the Mines Department officers persuaded that government not to grant an exploration licence. So what has changed?
Julie Devine, South East Queensland Coordinator for Lock the Gate Alliance said, "It is unthinkable that any government would consider coal mining or any other form of mining in or around the water catchments providing clean, safe drinking water to the majority of Queensland's population. This is not just an issue for the people of the Somerset Region but especially for the Brisbane population which relies totally on water from Wivenhoe and Somerset Dams for their everyday needs. The Somerset region suffers from occasional small earthquakes and severe flooding which would carry polluting mining slurry directly into the local river systems and the two major Dams leading to a major health problem for the urban centres. Mining the area would be a disaster waiting to happen,” she said
“There is evidence confirming this in areas all over Queensland as to the effects of permanent water contamination, land degradation and massive water losses that result from coal and CSG mining. For example, in towns such as Blackwater, the ground water is undrinkable and makes people ill. In over one hundred farms in and around Chinchilla, Dalby and Miles, the water bores have completely dried up. In a country where drought is guaranteed, squandering and destroying water supplies is a gross dereliction of government responsibility.” she said
The 2012 Council declaration of a moratorium on coal mining in the Somerset Region should have sent a clear message to the Queensland Government that the community clearly understood the value of their single most important resource, water. Residents of Somerset Region know their future lies in tourism and food production, not in coal or coal seam gas mining, and have made it abundantly clear that they do not want their livelihoods wrecked by coal mines or gas fields.
Toogoolawah resident, former National Party Queensland MP Beryce Nelson also expressed concern about the recent change in ownership of Coalbank which now appears to be completely in the hands of a Chinese family company based in Hong Kong. She said that many Somerset locals were also concerned about the new owners of the company particularly if there was an accident during exploration or any mining in the future.
There would be no clear way to ensure recovery and/or repair of the site or its effects on the people. She said it was a mystery to her that the company had been allowed to buy Coalbank Ltd with apparently little scrutiny and an even bigger mystery that they had been granted coal exploration licences so quickly in Queensland. Mrs. Nelson said she has written to both the Queensland Premier and to the Prime Minister asking that all of Coalbank’s exploration licences be suspended pending a full investigation of the whole situation.
Ms. Helen Granzien, a local real estate agent from Esk said, "Residents are also very nervous about the potential decrease in property values that now accompany the presence of coal mines and coal seam gas operations. We've already seen people walk off properties in the Bremer Valley because nobody wants to buy a property near a coal mine. Just this week I had visitors looking for a property in this region. They had been forced to move out of Mackay because of the FIFO activities of the mining companies around there. They had substantial investment properties in Mackay and those properties are now worthless due to the effects of mining. They are moving from Mackay as the mining companies are no longer interested in helping to build local communities but use only ‘fly in fly out’ employees, do not employ locals and do not use local businesses. Nor does Fly in fly out contract workers spend any real money in the town except at the pubs. I think the whole situation is out of control and the government needs to wake up."
Councillor Helen Breishcke said, "The Queensland government recently announced that they wanted to encourage population growth in regional Queensland and that they would be working towards doubling food production in Queensland by 2040. It's obvious, but needs to be said, that you cannot grow food without reliable water supplies. If the water supplies are contaminated and wasted by the massive increase in water consumption due to mining and fracking, it begs the question, how is this increase in food production going to be reached? The long-term social and economic future for our region lies in a variety of tourism opportunities and diverse food production not in short term and destructive profit driven policies."
"It's all very well to say there is not enough coal in the shire to make it worthwhile mining, which is what we were advised at previous community meetings, so the big question is, why has Coalbank sent in drilling rigs? And why has the Queensland Government allowed this if that is the case? People need to be fully aware that this area is the water catchment for the Somerset and Wivenhoe Dams, south-east Queensland’s primary source of water. It is incomprehensible that a government would even consider the possibility of coal mines or any other form of mining in or near water catchments. Any mining exploration permits in this area should be extinguished permanently," she said
Somerset Regional Council Mayor, Graeme Lehmann also reiterated the councils position on this matter saying, "It is inappropriate to have mining, coal mining and/or CSG mining in a region that is the main water catchment for South East Queensland"
A community meeting to discuss the issue will be held in the Alexandra Hall, Cressbrook Street,Toogoolawah at 7pm on 17 February. Everyone is welcome.