A scathing new report has laid bare the failures of successive Queensland Governments to implement a robust, accountable, and transparent assessment process for coal seam gas and fracking activities.
Prepared by the Environmental Defenders Office, the report is called “Falling through the cracks: Issues with integrity in the environmental assessment of gas activities in Queensland.”
The report details how Queensland communities who oppose CSG are shut out of the regulatory system that effectively operates in secret from the public, and is heavily weighted in favour of gas companies who are often able to self-assess environmental impacts of proposed projects.
Among the many concerns it raises, the report finds it is difficult for the state to get a true understanding of the greenhouse gas emissions being generated by the coal seam gas industry in Queensland due to a lack of transparency.
The report zeroes in on the joint Santos, Comet Ridge and APLNG Mahalo Project as a prime example of where the state’s regulatory system fails the pub test (note, Comet Ridge recently reached an agreement to purchase APLNG’s 30% share of the project).
Last year, the proponents applied for, and were subsequently granted, an amendment to add 190 wells to the project, doubling the total well count of 193 to 383 wells. This application also added two new tenures to the company’s Environmental Authority which are geographically located hundreds of kilometres from the previously approved EA tenures.
Despite judging the application a “major amendment”, the Department of Environment and Science used its discretion not to notify this amendment to the public, and no Environmental Impact Statement was required. This meant the community was denied an opportunity to make submissions or challenge the project in the Land Court.
Comet grazier Andrew Rowlands said the expansion was approved so rapidly and with such little public consultation, locals had been caught unaware.
“They applied to extend the amount of wells to more than 300 and that was passed before we even had knowledge of it,” he said.
“For me, the impact on the underground water is the main reason we object to the gas because locals rely on it. If there’s any impact on that underground water no one’s ever going to go back and fix it. It’s gone forever.
“The gas licence covers some of the best country in the area, cattle country and cropping areas, and it’s all just going to go up in pipelines and gas extraction.
“The way the gas industry talks, they just put in the pipes and they’re gone, but we’ve still got to work around all that infrastructure, making sure we don’t damage it… we’ve got to sit here living on top of a bomb basically if anything went wrong with it.”
Environmental Defenders Office managing lawyer Revel Pointon said the report was a damning indictment of the state of environmental assessment for the gas industry in Queensland.
“What our analysis shows is that the gas industry is largely moving through Queensland’s assessment process with very little oversight by the public, and even limited oversight by the government," she said.
“The gas industry is having a major impact on Queensland’s environment, regional communities, and our agricultural sector.
“This report shows that the gas industry’s impacts are not being put under sufficient scrutiny to ensure that projects being allowed to go ahead in this state are in the best interests of Queensland.
“The Queensland Government needs to subject this industry to proper environmental and social impact assessment and strict measures that hold the industry to account to the public.”
Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said the current system was failing communities and the environment.
“It is appalling that gasfields are being approved without requiring input from the local community or from the public more broadly,” she said.
“This amounts to a system that keeps the public in the dark over projects that pose a serious threat to land, water, and the environment.
“In light of this report, Lock the Gate Alliance calls for an immediate halt to new gas approvals in Queensland, and for an urgent inquiry into how many CSG wells have been approved in secret without any public notification.”
Note to editors: Footage of Andrew and the landscape that will be impacted by the Mahalo project is available here.