A Queensland Government draft plan to abandon responsibility for farmland that is sinking due to coal seam gas induced subsidence must go back to the drawing board, say farmers and community groups
The proposed changes would allow gas companies like Arrow Energy to cause widespread and ongoing subsidence without prior assessment for regional interest, while the government looks on.
Related reforms require owners of farms who will be impacted to enter into a subsidence agreement with gas companies, but without the same protections given when a company wants to drill on private property. This agreement would force landholders to accept ongoing and long-term harm to their properties and the wider region.
Sinking of land due to coal seam gas induced subsidence has been a known problem since the unconventional gas industry began expanding across Southern Queensland in the mid 2000s, however the QLD Government only formally recognised it as a problem for the first time early last year.
Even a few millimetres of sunken land can have massive impacts on cropping operations, which rely on a uniform slope to ensure good drainage to produce food and fibre.
Subsidence occurs when coal seam gas companies extract massive amounts of water as part of the gas extraction process, causing the land above to sink.
Kupunn Farmer Zena Ronnfeldt, whose property has already been impacted by coal seam gas induced subsidence said, “The proposed subsidence compensation reforms are shocking, they will force farmers without any legal or expert support to give for free unlimited time, information and farm access to Arrow Energy and the Qld Government.
“Eligibility for subsidence compensation will be based on modelling by the Qld Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment, but that model hasn’t yet been able to predict the subsidence damage that its own measurement tool confirms has happened to our farm.
“The QLD Government, which, after 18 months, is still investigating Arrow Energy for breaking RPI Act laws by secretly drilling gas wells into our farm without planning approval, now wants to delete subsidence as an impact from that Act. We have major subsidence damage from those wells, hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses and costs, and no compensation.”
Cecil Plains farmer Liza Balmain, whose property is in the firing line of the expanding Shell and PetroChina Surat Gas Project joint venture, said, “We are in the fight of our lives just to keep the status quo of what little protections we currently have as landholders, let alone try and seek improvements.
“But it’s not just farmers who suffer - when coal seam gas induced subsidence takes good agricultural land out of production, all Queenslanders pay the price.
“The government has identified what is causing a barrier to Arrow Energy’s advancement on the Darling Downs – the assessment of subsidence in the RPI Act – and are effectively working to bash down that barrier to allow Arrow to turn the Condamine Alluvial Floodplain food bowl into a gas hole, regardless of all the known long-term risks.
“It shows that this captured Government has no respect for the value of Qld’s agricultural production from such rare and fertile soils as those endemic to the Darling Downs.”
Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Ellen Roberts said, “These RPI Act reforms are the QLD Government cancelling farm protection from coal seam gas subsidence. They effectively say ‘too bad, you’re on your own’.
“Lock the Gate is calling for a moratorium on all coal seam gas operations. The fact we are even having this discussion, about the government allowing Queensland’s best farmland to sink so companies like Arrow can extract more coal seam gas, is an outrage.
“Subsidence isn’t limited to a property where gas wells are drilled - it spreads throughout the landscape to impact farms that do not host coal seam gas infrastructure.
“This draft plan deliberately weakens the regulation of petroleum and gas activities, representing a failure on the part of the Queensland Government to provide meaningful protection of high quality intensive cropping areas and underground water.”
The call for the Queensland Government to go back to the drawing board over its draft reforms comes shortly after Toowoomba Regional Council voted unanimously for a moratorium on all new coal seam gas approvals.
Community and farming groups are providing submissions this week, following an extension to the public consultation deadline.