Lock the Gate Alliance is urging state and territory governments to heed the warnings contained in the long-awaited Great Artesian Basin Strategic Management Plan concerning the unconventional gas industry and the threat it poses to the vital underground water resource.
The Management Plan, the first of its kind in 20 years, highlights the positive work undertaken to increase water pressure in the basin and “cap and pipe” existing bores.
However, in response to the rampant expansion of the unconventional gas industry, a warning was given to governments not to “compromise the long-term sustainability of the resource”.
“It is crucial that water extractions for mining and unconventional gas related activities is transparent and accountable, does not compromise the long-term sustainability of the resource, does not erode the water rights of other users and minimises any potential third party impacts.” (P10)
“The extraction of conventional oil and gas, and (increasingly) coal seam gas results in extraction of substantial amounts of artesian water as a by-product throughout the life of those projects.” (P35).
The growing gas/petroleum industry now accounts for 19 per cent of total GAB water take - a staggering 87,000 megalitres per annum. This figure has grown significantly, while other water-using industries have been working hard to try and limit water use.
The Management Plan also notes the aquifer that underlies many CSG operations in Queensland’s south and west - the Hutton Sandstone, has experienced significant declines.
“Average water levels continue to decline in the Surat Basin as a whole... with significant declines occurring in some deeper aquifers such as the Hutton Sandstone.” (P47)
The release of the Management Plan and its warnings come after the Queensland auditor-general released a report in February this year which found the State Government had effectively lost track of the unconventional gas industry.
That followed the 2019 Underground water impact report (UWIR) for the Surat Basin, which revealed that more than 100 farming bores in the Surat Basin had been drained due to CSG, with a further 500 expected to be drained if the industry expands as predicted.
Lock the Gate Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said so far, political will to reign in the unconventional gas industry’s damaging impact on underground water had been lacking.
“Both Labor and LNP politicians in Queensland have been only too happy to bend to pressure from the gas industry and its lobbyists, which has led to a free-for-all with little to no independent oversight of the industry,” she said.
“The Auditor General’s report showed that in their mad rush to exploit the state's gas resources, successive Queensland governments permitted the proliferation of the risky CSG industry without a safe, reliable regulatory framework in place.
“As we approach another state election, we urge these political parties to heed the GAB Management Plan’s advice and improve regulations governing the unconventional gas industry so it is transparently monitored.”
Among Lock the Gate Queensland’s asks ahead of this year’s election are:
Institute a strict cap on any direct or indirect take of water from the Great Artesian Basin for mining and gas in order to protect the state’s most precious water resource.
Remove the statutory right to water for mining and gas projects so that communities have a say in planning how water resources are allocated.
Reinstate protections for groundwater under the Environmental Protection Act that include considerations for intergenerational equity and the precautionary principle.
“These are crucial steps that will go a long way to ensuring the precious waters of the GAB remain available for farmers, communities, and the environment into the future,” Ms Smith said.