Coal Seam Gas Mining: An Assault on Farming Land, Water Resources and Property Rights
Dart, P., Lynam, C., Pointon, R., and Edwards, G. (2022)
Coal seam gas mining in the Surat and Bowen Basins in Queensland, Australia, has developed rapidly over the past decade. Many landholders are concerned about the effects of the industry on groundwater and agricultural resources and the weakness of official oversight, recently criticised by the Queensland Audit Office. Gas and water extraction is now extending under some of the most productive agricultural lands in Australia, the Darling Downs. Uncertainties remain as to the impacts of gas activities on aquifers. The water extracted along with the gas is often salty, and the method of disposing of the salts is a contentious, unresolved issue. The power imbalance between industry and landholders and weak regulation of industry hinders efforts by the industry to obtain a social licence. Governments have, to a large extent, neglected the region-wide and long-term effects of the mining. Extracting gas and water from the coal seams leaves depressurised zones, which lead to subsidence of the earth layers above the seam and leakage of aquifers into the coal seams with deleterious consequences for agricultural production. The statutory ‘make good’ process for compensating for loss of the aquifer water does not adequately offset the negative effects on the hydrological resources and on agricultural production. The prevailing self-regulation, lack of baseline assessment and inadequate monitoring of the mining processes are abrogations of government responsibility and the precautionary principle. As the industry is still ramping up, there is precious little time to protect agricultural land and the natural systems that underpin agriculture from potentially irrevocable damage.