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Warning from the Western Downs to Covid Commission: Gas is a problem, not an answer

Landholders living near gasfields on Queensland’s Western Downs have condemned the Federal Government and National Covid-19 Coordination Commission’s ill-sighted push for more unconventional gas, and have warned other communities in regions targeted by the industry.

The government and the fossil-industry stacked NCCC are today pushing a vision for a publicly underwritten expansion of the beleaguered gas sector, further deregulation of the industry, and the fast-tracking of project approvals.

However, Chinchilla locals say if the Queensland experience is anything to go by, the industry must not be allowed to expand any further.

Chinchilla landholder advocate and consultant, Shay Dougall, whose family, friends and clients’ properties are impacted by unconventional gasfields, said a serious power imbalance remained between the multinational gas companies and Queensland landholders.

She pointed to a recently released Queensland Audit Office report as evidence, which found successive Queensland Government’s had effectively lost track of the industry to the detriment of landholders and communities.

“The initial issues were that landholders were never truly informed about what they were signing up to, and they were never given appropriate legal representation - they were entering into long term legal contracts and they had very little in terms of dispute resolution,” she said.

“These agreements had no consideration for the industry’s growth and expansion, or recompense for developing issues - it was a one sized fits all approach.

“Landholders were not appropriately represented in either the approvals process, the permit process, or when they were required to go toe to toe with multinational companies and sign multigenerational contracts.

“That was the problem then, and it’s the problem now, as has been identified in every inquiry into the industry in Queensland, and has culminated in the recent Queensland Audit Office report.”

“This is nothing more than an unashamed, overt land grab by the gas industry. Until we see an adequate response to the damning Queensland Audit Office report, all the other states being pulled into this by the Covid Commission should take note and say this must be answered before we move on.”

Chinchilla farmer Glenn Beasley, whose property sits adjacent to a toxic CSG waste dump at the headwaters of the Murray Darling River system, said landholders were being asked to carry the burden of the gas industry.

“At a time when governments are asking primary producers to be increasingly responsible for matters of biosecurity, we find ourselves with a massive 15 million tonne CSG toxic waste facility perched immediately upstream to priority agricultural land,” he said.

“This compromises human health, biosecurity, and the environment, and expert appraisal has said this is a legacy future generations will have to deal with.” 

Former school facilities officer, Denver Kanowski, whose Chinchilla property has a petroleum lease overlaying it, said there had been dramatic changes to the local community thanks to the boom and bust cycle of the gas industry.

“I’ve seen a huge change in the social dynamic of Chinchilla - there was a building boom which was short sighted stupidity,” he said.

“The end result was that real estate prices skyrocketed with houses going for $400,000, now dramatically reduced. Rentals went from circa $250 a week to sometimes over $1000 a week, which excluded local working class people.

“Locally owned business has reduced considerably - we had two locally owned supermarkets that don’t exist anymore, we had two local shoe shops that don’t exist anymore… the whole dynamic has changed.

“There has been an increase in social disharmony, and a lot more drugs in town now. Ice is a problem now whereas before it was a pretty conservative type of place and that has changed quite a bit.

“The end result is a lot less local ownership, and this to me typifies the consequences of CSG moving in and then leaving the town - it’s based on short term greed.

“Governments are desperate for money, there are no ethics involved, and I find that pretty disgusting personally.”

Lock the Gate Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said by investing in renewable energy rather than gas, Australia could boost manufacturing without putting precious water resources or communities at risk.

“It’s clear from the experience on the Western Downs that gasfields do much more harm than good, particularly to the communities who are directly impacted,” she said.

“Unconventional gas is expensive to produce so with global prices now very low it makes no sense for us to risk precious water resources, farm land, and communities. Gas will also contribute to dangerous climate change.

“Unconventional gasfields cause a whole range of negative impacts that could exacerbate problems during this covid-19 driven economic recession.”

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