Newly obtained Right to Information documents reveal it took the Queensland Government six days to authorise the remediation of legacy coal boreholes that were spewing gas and salty water on Western Downs farmland in 2020.
The documents also show the Resources Department was concerned about negative media attention and threats from local “Knitting Nannas” and “anti-CSG landholders” during the incident, and included those threats alongside the threat posed by brackish water entering landholders’ dams or spilling over cropping areas from the bore holes.
The RTI documents show the multi-day delay occurred despite the department noting the first borehole was releasing water and gas in an “uncontrolled manner” that was “capable of posing a risk to life or property”. They also show the government admitting it is liable for damage caused as a result of the spill.
Water bores and unrehabilitated coal exploration boreholes can be affected by coal seam gas activities on the Western Downs, which have depressurised coal seams and caused water and gas to erupt from previously serviceable bores. In this case, the nearest gas operator was Origin Energy.
St George Knitting Nanna Leanne Brummell said it was bizarre and concerning that the department was worried about a threat from the Nannas while a potential contamination emergency was unfolding.
“It really shows the government is more worried about its image than the actual harm that’s occurring thanks to coal and gas development in the outback,” she said. “At least it shows the local Knitting Nannas are having an impact.
“It’s totally appalling that it took the government so long to authorise Origin to fix this mess. A similar incident would be fixed immediately if it happened on William St outside the government’s ivory tower.
“The government has no idea - it doesn’t know how many legacy coal holes exist, let alone where they are. It’s a multitude of disasters waiting to happen.”
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Ellie Smith said the Palaszczuk Government was paying the price for putting the cart before the horse and allowing CSG companies to run rampant across the Downs without first commissioning detailed research into the risks.
“The July 2020 incident, in which a total of seven legacy coal boreholes were found to be belching salty water and gas onto farmland due to CSG dewatering, laid bare the Palaszczuk Government’s inability to swiftly respond to such emergencies," she said.
“It’s hopeless that it took six days before there was a response, because the government processes are so poor that it needs permission from the coal company that left the bores unrehabilitated many years ago before it can trigger action to address the incident.
“The CSG industry has dewatered vast areas of the Western Downs, and more than 100 water bores have already run dry, and now we’re seeing incidents like this where CSG dewatering is leading to old coal boreholes spewing salty water and gas into the air.
“Yet the Queensland Palaszczuk Government still isn’t even prepared for these types of pollution events, and was caught with egg on its face when something went wrong.
“The government desperately needs to get its house in order - coal companies should be made to clean up their old exploration bores and the march of the CSG industry should be stopped because its impacts on water and communities are clearly too great.”
Origin is careful to admit no fault in its correspondence, but it’s apparent from the fact it was the responsible party for dealing with the boreholes that its nearby coal seam gas operations were very likely the cause of the gas and brackish water migration to the surface. CSG has depressured coal seams and caused numerous water bores to blow out in similar fashion. As well, a report commissioned by the State Government last year stated: “The Condamine “Bubbles” exist because the river overlies one of these systems. While the seeps are a natural system, the gas escape is enhanced by down-dip CSG production, which is approximately 1km away.”