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New Queensland mine law will affect billions of litres of groundwater

A Queensland parliamentary committee today recommended the passing of a controversial new piece of legislation that will allow coal mining companies to remove billions of litres of groundwater without having to buy licences or adhere to caps.

The Water Reform and Other Legislation Bill gives mining companies a statutory right to take so-called “associated water” with no limit, no need to buy licences, and no right of appeal for affected landholders and communities.

Coal mines need to remove large volumes of water from the ground in order to access coal, since coal seams are themselves generally groundwater aquifers. In the Galilee Basin, the five mines already approved may need to remove as much as 1,354GL[1] of groundwater over the life of their mining activities. Most of this water will be removed from region aquifers that feed towns, cattle stations and the tributaries of the Belyando River, but some will also be diverted from recharging the Great Artesian Basin.

Under the current system, the companies would have to purchase licences for this water under a Water Resource Plan that caps overall water removal. This new law removes that need, and gives coal mining companies a statutory right to take so-called “associated water”

This is a privilege already enjoyed by coal seam gas companies in Queensland. The Committee heard of the terrible experiences landholders in the Surat Basin have had negotiating with gas companies over “make good” provisions for the impacts of large-scale groundwater removal on their bores and farms. This experience now looks set to be repeated with coal mines in Central Queensland.

Lock the Gate said, “The largest coal mining projects ever attempted in Australia are now approved for construction in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland. These mines will need to remove billions of litres of groundwater from their combined 34 open cut pits, including water diverted from Australia’s greatest underground water resource, the Great Artesian Basin. The list of concessions being offered to the companies behind these mines is out of all proportion with the economic benefits they offer.

The Committee admitted there were problems with the make good arrangements in place for the gas industry but failed stand up for landholders against this extraordinary water-rights grab.

“Queensland can scarcely afford to deplete its groundwater sources so recklessly. For the wealthy, short-term mining industry to be given huge quantities of groundwater in regions where Queensland farmers and graziers depend utterly on their bores is unacceptable. Groundwater is our most precious resource, and for Queensland to prosper, its use must be sustainable in the long term.

“This reckless action by the Queensland parliament doesn’t just affect Queensland. The Great Artesian Basin is an irreplaceable asset for inland Australia, and one state should not be allowed to jeopardise it in this way, just to fix water scarcity problems faced by their mining mates.”

[1] Draining the Lifeblood. Lock the Gate 2013.

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