Listen to Interview here
Let’s start by shifting the focus away from this impacted landholder, it could be any landholder with coal exploration bores on their property; and it is important not to make this seem like it’s an aberrant occurrence. Every day landholders are facing iniquitous issues such as this and they will not come forward if they feel they will be harassed. Don’t focus on this landholder. We need to focus on the circumstances of which Origin are not being entirely truthful. When the seeps originally occurred in the Condamine River, those living in the area were traumatised by the invasion of their privacy. So let’s turn the focus to where it belongs, on the government and the industry and let’s get some answers.
Origin Energy and the Queensland Government have been aware of this latest incident for several weeks. SUBSURFACE water and gas spurting from coal exploration drilling holes and coal seam gas has been bubbling in areas of the Condamine River catchment where it’s never been seen before since July 23, 2020.
The public including farmers in the immediate vicinity only became aware of the incident via a sensational news article.
This is not about the individual property and family impacted this time, this is about what this incident represents.
- It is an example of an unidentified, unmanaged, unmitigated collateral offsite impact(s) – once again the neighbours to the industry are the ones that are left out of the conversation. This issue was identified in the Queensland Audit Office Report into CSG management, the failure to consider and properly manage offsite impacts
- The fallacy of the insistence by industry and the government that only those with infrastructure on their property are impacted, and that the impacts adhere to cadastral boundaries. This is something that those in the next gas development area – Arrow in Cecil Plains – must consider with the issue of deviated drilling
- When asked if recent CSG development in the Chinchilla area had caused the issue to arise, the Origin spokesman said “there is no gas development on this property and no fracking has occurred in this area”. In fact, Origin has just recently drilled a number of wells in the immediate vicinity of this incident and has been conducting pressure testing of the system. Origin’s vague statement is misleading.
- Origin also stated “While we aren’t responsible for the ongoing management of these old coal exploration bores, we are prepared to work with our landowners and government on a case-by-case basis to remediate from an environmental and safety perspective.” Actually, historically this has been raised as a serious concern by other stakeholders including the Basin Sustainability Alliance as early as 2012.
Additionally, this map from Origin Energy’s own report (Condamine River Gas Seep Investigation: Technical Report by Norwest) shows that while the coal exploration holes do not show up on Qld Globe, Origin know of the location of many coal exploration holes in the area and knew of the risks they posed.
In 2014 when the original seeps in the Condamine River occurred the Norwest Report was written. In that report, it was detailed: “…there are known to be coal exploration bores in the area that are not always recorded, and generally these bores were not plugged. These bores are likely to remain open or partially open, potentially allowing fluids from different formations to mix and to migrate.” The recommendations in that report included: Priority and recommendation 8 of 15 : …to implement systematic and ongoing monitoring of…coal exploration bores…plug and abandon coal bores…increases in methane at coal exploration bores increase risk of fire and explosion
- The questions that should be asked include:
- is this another impact that is triggered as a result of this industry and therefore is the responsibility of the industry to address?
- Why were these recommendations in the Norwest Report not addressed? Why is there not a remediation project in place via the government and the industry to proactively plug and abandon these pathways to reduce landholder impacts?
- Why was this incident not foreseen and prepared for when both the government and the industry have had at least 6 if not 8 years to put this on project status similar to the make good process of water bores impacted by the industry?
- Why is the government and the industry incapable of giving the landholders expected to live with the gas industry the respect of communicating openly and transparently about impacts and properly characterising them? How about a transparent description of what is happening technically underground in the area instead of vague statements of nothing to see here?
- Why are the Gasfield Commission and other ‘hierarchical representative community consultation groups’ stuck in board rooms and on webinars and incapable of addressing the real lived experience of the people on the ground?
- While water and methane coming to the surface provide a very visible flag of the looming problem, what about the even greater uncertainties for landowners that these abandoned exploration holes together with gas industry depressurisation of one strata, provide pathways for water, methane and anything else to travel to other aquifers important for food production that could result in a myriad of problems.
This incident represents a circumstance of constant evolution in Queensland, the powers that be are happy for us to face an industry that leaves the host farmers, appallingly little statutory protection now and into the future.