To attempt to manage the impacts to underground water through the unlimited take of water by unconventional gas (CSG) operations, as part of the “approvals process”, the Water Act 2000 outlines the requirements for Baseline Assessments of farmer’s water bores by CSG companies.
A baseline assessment is an assessment of a water bore undertaken by a resource tenure holder to obtain information about the bore, including:
- the level and quality of water in the bore
- the historical water use
- how the bore is constructed
- the type of infrastructure used to pump water from the bore.
To quantify “make good” obligations in the event of interference of a landholder’s bore from CSG operations – it is critical that data for a baseline assessment be obtained accurately and with integrity.
The Qld Government’s guideline for Baseline assessments—ESR/2016/1999 (formerly EM1088) provides both resource operators and bore owners with specific information on what is required for a baseline assessment.
Regrettably, this is an area where the demands and political influence of the CSG Industry has guided the development of the Water and Environmental Protection Acts and theirimplementation, administration and enforcement – thus leaving the farmer susceptible for legal bullying and financial disadvantage.
A “live case” example of this follows:
- The farmer has Arrow contact them about the baseline testing for their water bores, and in good faith the farmer allows the activity to be undertaken and is given a report. The farmer understands that this is a necessary process of the Qld Government imposed CSG industry to ensure that if their bores are impacted by the CSG activity, this will form the basis of negotiations for any future “make good” arrangement for impacts on their bores .
- Later the farmer, is then forced to engage with Arrow over access to their property to install pipelines and other CSG extraction infrastructure.
- The farmer being required to make commercially grave and enduring decisions on a 20 business day timeline, reviews their business and operational data
- In considering the water bore information provided by Arrow under the Water Act, the farmer discovers that
- the aquifer attributions for their bores are incorrect;
- the OGIA model predictions for impacts on their bores are inaccurately related to the incorrect bores
- the bore numbers attributed to the baseline assessments are incorrect
- The depth, construction and geology intersected for the farmer’s bores are inaccurate.
- The OGIA modelled impact predictions at each of the farmer’s bores is based on incorrect and inaccurate data.
- Upon discovering this, the farmer no longer has any faith in Arrow’s or OGIA’s technical competence. The farmer decides to get an independent third party to review the bores and charge the expense to Arrow, since it is an issue relating directly to the CSG activities in the area and Arrow’s imposed engagement. The farmer also wonders if there is a problem and implications with and for the wider baseline assessment integrity and the UWIR by association.
- The farmer lodges an enquiry with OGIA and the DES to address their concerns and queries, but finds after 5 weeks of ‘analysis’ of the Water Act, the DES advisesthat there is “no protocol in the department for the types of enquiry they have submitted” and that they (DES) would need to gather further data from Arrow to address the query.
Further, the farmer is advised by the DES “that there are no provisions in the Water Act 2000 or its legislative framework to allow a landholder to engage a third party hydrogeologist to undertake a baseline assessment” and charge the cost to the tenure holder. This leaves the farmer to pursue a resolution on their own and at theirown expense to deal with the gross incompetence of government processes and the technical capacity of Arrow Energy and OGIA. The farmer is unable to make a fully informed decision over a CSG companys’ access to their property due to this total incompetence. This is despite the provisions in the Water Act for the Chief Executive of the DES to direct a CSG company to undertake a baseline assessment in accordance with the Qld Government’s guidelines for baseline assessments.
Key Implications and Outcomes that this example demonstrates include:
- How many other baseline assessments of landholder’s bores in the Surat Basin CMA and other areas have been conducted in such a poor manner?
- Why doesn’t the DES have access to the bore and baseline assessment data needed to answer farmer’s questions?
- Why does the DES have to ask Arrow Energy to produce the baseline assessment and bore data?
- All of these concerns were raised in stakeholder submissions to the 2017 review of the Water Act (Report on the review), and to the Qld Audit Office of the Queensland Government’s performance in the management of CSG activities. The Qld Audit Office Report highlights the gross derelection of responsibility of the DES and the DNRM&E in effectively managing the irreversible impacts of the CSG Industry on groundwater resources in the South West Qld region.
- To effectively deal with the total lack of integrity of the Qld Government’s baseline assessment process, 10% of the baseline assessments undertaken by CSG companies should be field verified by an independent entity to ensure the public’s trust , has this occurred and what are the results?
- Given the errors outlined in the above “case study” – how can the public have faith in OGIA’s ability to provide “high integrity advice” on the predicted impacts of Arrow Energy on each of the farmer’s bores
- Why has it taken the DES so long to identify that the Arrow Energy baseline assessment is based on incorrect bore data and hence it is not up to required standards?
The response by the Queensland bureaucracy to this “live case example” clearly demonstrates that the Qld Government, its Departments, the GasFields Commission and the OGIA are all “snug in bed” with the CSG Industry and its Peak Body – APPEA.
The Queensland public should be very alarmed at the lack of “high integrity oversight” by the Palaszczuk Government and its bureaucracy over the activities of the CSG Industry and its irreversible impacts on the State’s precious groundwater resources.
Queenslanders deserve better and should demand effective action from the Palaszczuk Government – not the continual political spin and “piss & wind” that emanates from George Street and the Premier.