Downs farmers challenge CSG water claims

Queensland Country Life
JAMES NASON  –  04 Jun, 2010 02:16 PM
CLAIMS that the coal seam gas industry does not take water from the Great Artesian Basin have been challenged by Darling Downs farmers. Members of the Basin Sustainability Alliance say at least two Queensland Government documents show that CSG water is extracted directly from the Walloon Coal Measures, which is identified by the Queensland Government’s Water Resource Operations Plan of February 2007 as an aquifer of the Great Artesian Basin.

 The same document also identifies that the amount of water available for allocation from the Walloon Coal Measure under the Resource Operations Plan is zero megalitres.

 A December 2008 scoping study on the ground water impacts of the Coal Seam Gas development was commissioned by Queensland’s Department of Infrastructure and Planning and shows the Walloon Coal measures will be “dewatered” as part of the planned Coal Seam Gas industry developments.

The report, prepared by the University of Queensland’s Centre for Water in the Minerals Industry, states that Hutton, Springbok and Condamine Alluvium aquifers are at risk from the dewatering of the Walloon Coal Measures.

“This is largely due to the relatively close vertical distance between these aquifers and coal measures,” the report states.

“The risk to the Condamine aquifer is also relatively higher in areas where the Springbok Sandstone is thin or absent.

“Overall there is a higher relative risk to aquifers in the Surat Basin compared to other aquifer/coal associations.”

The report also shows that the Queensland Government was warned about the potential for connectivity between aquifers used by CSG companies and surrounding aquifers relied upon by townships and agricultural users almost two years ago.

“It has previously been expected that there would only be a low impact of CSG development on surrounding aquifers in the Surat basin (Parsons Brinckerhoff, 2004).”

“However, because dewatering of the coal seams might disrupt the hydraulic conditions that maintain the dynamic flow equilibrium in aquifers, connectivity may be established posing a risk to the aquifer water supply.”

It also highlights the lack of knowledge surrounding CSG impacts: “The potential scale of development of CSG and the associated dewatering of the coal seam aquifers has raised concerns about impacts on surrounding aquifers. Currently, there is limited understanding of the connectivity between coal seam aquifers and regional and local aquifer systems.”

Cecil Plains irrigator Stuart Armitage said another section of the report highlighted modeling predictions made in 2008 that showed that 72 wells pumping within a 225 square kilometre area of the Surat basin would extract all water in the vicinity of those wells “within 11 years”.

“That is the sort of thing that just has to scare anyone from here to the Simpson Desert,” Mr Armitage said.

The Queensland Resources Council told Queensland Country Life last week that coal seam gas companies were careful not to take Great Artesian Basin water.

“The Great Artesian Basin is not a coal seam, so CSG companies will not be seeking to draw down water from it,” it said.

“In some cases, a gas well may pass through the basin, but these wells are encased to prevent impacts on the Great Artesian Basin.”

Fellow Cecil Plains farmer and irrigator Graham Clapham said farmers had co-operated with the Government to give up irrigation allocations with no compensation to ensure the long-term viability of the Condamine Alluvium, only to see CSG companies given “unfettered access” to the Great Artesian Basin.

“We will lose up to 58pc of allocations and will be uncompensated for it,” Mr Clapham said.

“The Government really has had a tremendous amount of goodwill on behalf of irrigators over that.

“What other sector of the community could you go into and take that much of their substance away without compensation and not have an absolute uproar.

“And that goodwill has primarily been based around the understanding of the sustainability issue.

“But that goodwill is evaporating as irrigators see the Government allowing mining companies, a new player in the region, to come in and extract unlimited amounts of groundwater.

“You can have all of the argument about whether it is connected or whether it is not connected – we believe that ultimately given time it is, it doesn’t alter the fact that they are pulling water out of the ground from under our farms.”

Mr Clapham said the Government’s own documents had shown that the aquifers were at high risk of dewatering.

“It is all there in black and white, these guys know about this.”

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