Council ‘bans’ what it does not have

November 5th, 2014

In a bizarre move, a far north Queensland Council has decided to ‘ban’ coal seam gas development within the shire boundaries, despite the fact that regulation of the industry is a State issue, and there are no plans to extract natural gas in the region.

The Douglas Shire Council, north of Cairns, agreed to a motion at the November Council meeting that includes such lofty ambitions as ‘petitioning the Prime Minister’, and in a move that might surprise some residents, becoming a de-facto advertising agency for the Lock The Gate movement by agreeing to:

‘Have information and brochures in our foyer about this movement’ and

‘Provide relevant information on our website and Facebook page.’

In a media release announcing the Council’s decision, Mayor Julia Leu, made the unsubstantiated claim that:

There is evidence that coal seam gas mining can contaminate underground aquifers’

While there’s plenty of evidence of groups like Lock the Gate spreading this claim, (and getting their facts wrong on others) the fact remains that there’s no concrete evidence that unconventional gas development has contaminated underground aquifers.

According to the CSIRO, groundwater contamination from coal seam gas operations is considered a low risk for the following reasons:

  • Hydraulic fracturing, when conducted correctly, is unlikely to introduce hazardous concentrations of chemicals into groundwater or to create connections between fresh and coal-containing aquifers
  • Most of the chemicals are of low inherent toxicity, undergo considerable dilution, and the majority (60-80 per cent) are understood to be removed during flow back of the hydraulic fracturing fluid to the well from the coal seam.
  • Water extraction from coal seams makes cross‑contamination of aquifers unlikely; most of the inter-aquifer transfer will be of higher quality water into neighbouring coal measures as water flows from high to low pressure.

According to West Australian experts, hydraulic fracturing has been used on 2.5 million wells worldwide without a single confirmed case of groundwater contamination, while the NSW Chief Scientist found recently that any risks posed by the CSG industry can be managed through appropriate regulation.

In the United States, the Department of Energy and the Groundwater Protection Council concluded that:

“In fact, based on over sixty years of practical application and a lack of evidence to the contrary, there is nothing to indicate that when coupled with appropriate well construction; the practice of hydraulic fracturing in deep formations endangers ground water. There is also a lack of demonstrated evidence that hydraulic fracturing conducted in many shallower formations presents a substantial risk of endangerment to ground water”

And, as we reported recently, there is yet more evidence to disprove the common claim that hydraulic fracturing can contaminate groundwater.

On the other side of the country, representatives of another coastal council have recently spoken about the benefits of the gas industry to the local community.

Oil and gas production from onshore wells has been occurring in the Shire of Irwin (located in the Mid West of Western Australia) since at least the 1970’s, so the Shire’s evidence wasn’t based on fear of the unknown or propaganda, but instead was deep seated in real experience.

In fact, the natural resource extraction sector (minerals and onshore and offshore oil and gas) is the third biggest employer in the region, and that doesn’t include companies servicing the sector.

Shire of Irwin President Stuart Chandler and CEO Darren Simmons told a West Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into hydraulic fracturing that they viewed the possible reinvigoration of the oil and gas industry in the area with optimism, due to the employment opportunities it would create.

Our report on the Committee hearing can be found here.

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