How Queensland farmers reached harmony with gas companies
THE COAL seam gas industry is big business in Queensland.
From west of Toowoomba to Roma and north to Moranbah there are thousands of wells, hundreds of waste-water dams and treatment plants, power plants and powerlines, and thousands of kilometres of gas and water pipelines.
Given the climate against coal seam gas here in NSW, many might expect Queensland farmers to be rallying against the industry in numbers.
But the reality is quite different.
Concerns over "disastrous" impacts on ground-water, which dominate the NSW debate, are yet to be proven by the Queensland experience and some farmers have instead seen big benefits.
Following some improvements many farmers have now cautiously accepted the industry.
Cotton farmer Ian Hayllor, who founded the Basin Sustainability Alliance (BSA) four years ago to address his and fellow farmers' concerns over the "uninvited" gas industry, is among those who have adjusted their mindset.
"My attitude right from the start was I don't need them here. I knew I had no right to stop the community accessing it but I had every right to make it sustainable," Mr Hayllor said.
"I wasn't going to let it progress if there was a threat to our future."
But instead of clashing with the industry, BSA in its early days identified specific needs.
It lobbied government and the industry for fairer access agreements, more transparency about the science of the industry and accountability for any impacts.
Mr Hayllor hosted a drilling study on the connection between coal seams and aquifers with bores that pumped water continuously at high pressure for a month and found only a "miniscule" connection between the coal seam and the shallower aquifer.
There are now "make-good" agreements in place for any farming bores forecast to be impacted by the industry, where farmers can have a new bore drilled or receive cash. To date, 85 bores of 21,000 in the Surat Basin are predicted to be affected.
There are now 721 water-monitoring bores in Queensland drilled specifically to measure any impacts on the water table.
Farmers are also no longer bound by confidentiality clauses.
Perhaps the biggest achievement was the formation of the Queensland GasFields Commission, an independent statutory body designed to oversee the industry and ensure a fair deal for everyone.
Today Mr Hayllor, now one of seven GasFields commissioners, said he believed the bulk of the community's concerns had been addressed; that the situation for farmers was "light years" ahead.
In contrast, he said the Lock the Gate organisation hadn't evolved its message and was stuck in an oppositional rut that wasn't constructive.
There are still concerns in places like the Cecil Plains, a bountiful region of prime agricultural land, where Lock the Gate signs are more common.
CSG INDUSTRY: QLD / NSW
- Total active wells: 5228 / 232
- Production wells: 3913* / 144 *not all producing yet but ready to produce
- Exploration/pilot wells: 1547 / 88
- Fracked wells: 301 / 0
- Water monitoring bores: 721 / 415
- Land access agreements: 4801 / 285
- Community contributions: $124 million / $1.1 million
- Total contributions in last quarter 2013: $7 million / $120,000
Community contributions are not royalties: They include voluntary payments such as:
- $3.6 million investment for the Chinchilla Family Support Centre.
- $400k towards Chinchilla kindergarten.
- $1.29 million for upgrade of the Miles water and sewage network.