Fracking operations require large volumes of water and toxic chemicals and produce massive volumes of contaminated wastewater, placing both ground and surface water resources at risk from depletion and contamination. The outback landscapes being targeted for oil and gas are home to pristine river systems and important wetlands that are at serious risk from fracking operations- especially in times of heavy rain and flooding.
Coal seam gas production in Queensland, in particular the de-watering of the coal seams during well development, is having significant impacts on water resources. More than 700 water bores used by farmers are expected to be drained due to CSG activities from a total 22,000 CSG wells (8,600 of which are already operating). As of early 2022, CSG water take is also increasing, with the industry now extracting 54 billion litres each year.
Water contamination from migrating gas has also occurred adjacent to CSG production in Queensland, with water bores, creeks and rivers all observed to be bubbling with gas and old coal exploration holes spewing salty underground water.
Large open cut coal mines divert creeks, reduce catchment areas and draw groundwater from the surrounding countryside. Coal mining is a water-hungry industry, and in the Hunter region, mining companies own the majority of high security water, leaving agriculture more exposed to drought. The vast area of the Hunter that has been altered by open cut coal mining is causing significant loss of water in the Hunter River and draw down of productive aquifers.
In southern Queensland, farmers have been battling for years against the expansion of the New Acland coal mine due to its expected impact on precious groundwater resources. In the Namoi Valley, Whitehaven Coal has been prosecuted for illegally harvesting rainfall that should have made its way to the Namoi River during a record drought, and fined for illegally building pipelines to send irrigation bore water from nearby farms to run its Maules Creek coal mine.
Longwall mining carves underground cavities that cause subsidence and cracking on the surface, which takes water from catchment areas. In the Special Areas of Sydney’s drinking water catchment, decades of longwall mining has caused the collapse of the upland swamps that filter and release Sydney’s clean beautiful drinking water, and has cracked creeks and landforms that channel water into the city’s storage dams. Some of these longwalls come perilously close to the dams themselves and experts have warned that drinking water is being lost as a result of this activity.
There are plans to open up massive new oil and gas basins in three magical parts of Australia. These regions are home to some of the most beautiful, unspoiled places left on earth and are important cultural landscapes for First Nations peoples.
The gas industry's plans are truly terrifying - they want to pockmark these incredible places with thousands of dangerous fracking wells. They have their sights set on some of our most iconic tourism regions, including:
In north west New South Wales the Pilliga Forest is another important natural and cultural area under threat from gas expansion. Santos' Narrabri coal seam gas project has approval to drill 850 coal seam gas wells on 425 well pads over 95,000 hectares of forest and surrounding farmland.
Some of Australia's best farmland is being impacted by both coal and gas mining across north west NSW, central Queensland and the Darling Downs in Queensland's south east.
A CSIRO study looking at the Queensland CSG industry found that the losses to farmers due to coal seam gas (CSG) mining on their land amounted to an average loss of $2.17 million over 20 years. The biggest cause of losses to agricultural production was from gas industry access tracks and lease areas.
In Queensland's Western Downs agricultural district, subsidence caused by coal seam gas activity beneath the surface is making prime farmland sink. A government report has identified hundreds of square metres of subsidence of up to 15cm in some districts, which could have significant impacts on laser levelled cropping farms.
Central QLD farmland under threat from coal
CSG sinkhole in SW QLD (Image source: SMH article "Gaslighting Australia")
Unconventional oil and gas production requires thousands of gas wells and vast networks of roads and pipelines leading to the industrialisation of vast areas of the landscape. This type of extensive clearing, disturbance and fragmentation harms plants and wildlife, including threatened species.
Some of our most unique and endangered wildlife are at risk from fracking where the gas industry is set to expand. From the Kimberley in north west WA to the Pilliga Forest in NSW, species at risk include the Gouldian Finch, the Bilby, the Pilliga Mouse, and the Eyrean Grass Wren.
Coal mining has cleared thousands of hectares of critically endangered bushland in New South Wales and Queensland. Irreplaceable natural refuges and Gomeroi cultural landscapes like the Leard and Pilliga forests in north west New South Wales have been cleared or undermined by coal mining operations.
New and expanding coal mines, if approved, in the Hunter Valley and north west region of NSW and central Queensland will continue to significantly impact on endangered plant communities and threatened wildlife.
Coal mining activity in North west NSW that has cleared critically endangered woodland
Burning coal and gas for electricity, heat and industry creates greenhouse gas emissions that accumulate in the atmosphere, heating our planet and driving extreme weather events. So far, the world has experienced just over 1 degree of global average warming as a result. That doesn’t sound like much, but is enough to have already altered the weather patterns that shape our lives, driving up heat and fire extremes, creating extreme rainfall and storm events and warming the ocean so that its life systems are under stress.
Delayed action to reduce this greenhouse pollution has left a very short window of opportunity to prevent this accumulation of gases from causing further warming to beyond 1.5 degrees which scientists warn will have catastrophic consequences for all of us.
To prevent this catastrophic global heating we need to rapidly reduce greenhouse pollution now. That means we can’t afford to build any new coal mines or expand existing mines, and it means replacing gas for heating and manufacturing. Fortunately, there are ways of making electricity, fuelling transport and harnessing energy for industry that don’t create this greenhouse pollution. Lock the Gate is supporting regional communities to diversify and build renewable energy and industry.
Detailed mapping of licences Australia-wide reveals that 37.3% of Australia is covered by coal and gas licences and applications. That amounts to 285 million hectares - an area almost 13 times the size of Great Britain!