A major health emergency has developed on Queensland's western Darling Downs with residents in the Tara-Chinchilla area forming a Gasfield Community Support Group to lobby the State Government for more concerted action to address the problems being created for them by having to live surrounded by coal seam gas infrastructure.
Over the last few months residents of the area have complained about health issues like nose and ear bleeding, skin rashes, dizziness and nausea, fatigue and sleeplessness, and they are linking these symptoms with gas smells and coming into contact with bore water that is contaminated with methane and other gases.
Methane has been bubbling up in a 15 kilometre stretch of the Condamine River for many weeks now and local residents and Lock the Gate believe this is linked with the intense coal seam gas developments in the area.
Hydrogen sulphide, a toxic gas that can be released when a coal seam is fractured, has also been smelt by residents and coal seam gas workers.
The residents of the Tara estate have been asking coal seam gas company, QGC, for the last 18 months to reduce noise levels from a nearby compressor station but get no response except vague promises of air monitoring – which never eventuates.
Lock the Gate Alliance president, Drew Hutton, said the Queensland State Government must take determined action to address this problem or risk continuing the cover-up of the problem begun by the former Labor government.
"The Queensland Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg, must immediately initiate a community health study, in consultation with the Gasfield Community Support Group, to establish the dimensions of the health problem and develop a program of action for addressing it," Mr Hutton said.
"Local landowners are telling me they and their families are getting ill from being in close proximity to their gas-filled water bores. Is the State Government checking these bores?"
Mr Hutton also called for a long-term, independent study of gas leakages right across the Surat Basin.
"If the gas migration in the Tara-Chinchilla area is linked to coal seam gas operations, then it can happen anywhere there is inter-connectivity between the coal seam and the surface," Mr Hutton said.
"None of the companies even canvassed this as a possibility in their environmental impact statements so it is now up to the State Government to ensure this work is done.
"The Queensland Government has a regulatory system which can adapt the conditions a company must work under. So far, this has been used only to help out the coal seam gas companies but, if health and inter-connectivity studies show there is a real health issue here, then the adaptive management system will have to be implemented to buy affected people out or close down company operations in areas that are unsuitable for gas extraction operations."