Some of Australia’s most treasured outback national parks and the cultural heritage sites, plants, and animals they protect are at risk after Origin Energy revealed plans to build new unconventional gasfields across hundreds of thousands of hectares in Central Queensland.
Earlier this year, Origin, on behalf of its joint venture APLNG (Origin 37.5%, ConocoPhillips 37.5%, and Sinopec 25%), referred a massive expansion of its already monstrous Australia Pacific LNG Project to the Federal Government under the EPBC Act.
If approved, the company would drill and frack up to 7,700 gas wells (MNES report page 33) across 476,492 hectares in central and south west Queensland, in an area surrounding iconic national parks like Carnarvon NP and Expedition NP, which protect world renowned First Nations cultural sites, and provide safe havens for threatened wildlife.
In total, Origin says it will “disturb” more than 17,000 hectares of land by drilling wells and building associated infrastructure.
In its own referral, Origin admits its proposal would have an impact on at least 26 plant and animal species, including koala populations, at least six threatened ecological communities, and at least three nationally threatened groundwater spring systems.
As well, the application states the project will require 72.9 billion litres of water (Page 15 of Appendix G ‘Produced Water Management Plan').
Recently, the Morrison Government decided Origin’s proposal should be considered under the EPBC Act due to its expected impacts on threatened species and communities, water, and migratory species. Origin had originally claimed it should be only assessed for impacts on threatened species and communities.
As has already been seen in southern Queensland, Origin’s gasfields will lead to major drops in groundwater and will risk contaminating water supplies, making life even more difficult for Central Queensland farmers who have battled through years of drought.
Origin’s plan would also transform rural localities and communities into industrial gasfields, which require new roads and pipelines that would cut through properties and bushland.
Lock the Gate Alliance First Nations support person Gemma Cronin said Canarvon Gorge and the land around it had many intrinsic cultural and heritage values for all people, not just the Traditional Guardians.
“People come from all over the world to see the rock art galleries at Carnarvon Gorge,” she said.
“This gasfield would also drill through the Great Artesian Basin. There are springs in that area that have always been important to Aboriginal people, and the people who live in that area today.
“Gas companies cannot keep attacking groundwater - so many of us are connected through the Great Artesian Basin. We live on a land that is 70 percent arid and companies like Origin want to keep attacking our springs and groundwater sources.
“People from the country around Carnarvon Gorge have been speaking to me about this and they are worried. Aboriginal rights should be respected, and gas companies are simply not doing that.”
Don’t Frack the Outback spokesperson Leanne Brummell said, “This expansion demonstrates the insidious nature of unconventional gas - once a company starts pockmarking the landscape with gas wells, it doesn’t stop.
“The Morrison Federal Government loudly claims to support farmers and the bush, but when fossil fuel giants want to rip it up and flog most of the gas overseas to the highest bidder, these politicians welcome the frackers with open arms.
“As we have seen across the Surat Basin, agricultural bores will undoubtedly be drained and gas companies will drag their heels before coming to the table and implementing ‘make good’ arrangements.
“Landowners in this region have spent years battling drought, and they will now be forced to negotiate with bullying gas companies over access to water.
“I could not believe it when I heard about this application. Seeking to expand fossil gasfields when the world is on the brink of climate catastrophe is just astonishing. This application should be thrown in the bin.”
Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said the gasfield would have a permanent, devastating impact on the communities, farms, and the environment of Central Queensland if it went ahead.
“The destruction caused by unconventional gas drilling does not stop at the farm gate, or at the border of a national park simply because it occurs on the other side of the fence,” she said.
“While Origin may not technically be able to drill within Carnarvon Gorge National Park, it will be permitted to destroy many thousands of hectares of surrounding land that currently supports threatened animals like the koala.
“The proposed project would drill right through the Great Artesian Basin, and would impact at least 11 water bores and at least 3 nationally threatened groundwater spring systems.
“Despite the clear and present danger to water resources, Origin tried to claim that the impacts will be minimal,that the water trigger should not apply and the matter should not be referred to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee - a statutory committee of eminent groundwater experts charged with advising the government on projects just like this one.
“Thankfully the Federal Environment Minister rejected this scandalous suggestion from Origin, and applied the water trigger. A thorough and detailed assessment of water impacts is absolutely required for this massive project.
"In light of the latest AEMO report, which found Australia's domestic demand for gas is likely to remain stable or fall in the next 20 years, there is absolutely no justification for new fracking gasfields that destroy water and farmland. Origin's monstrous proposal must be rejected."