Mine Threat to Artesian Basin

The Australian - Asa Wahlquist

THE Great Artesian Basin Co-ordinating Committee has called for tighter regulation of mining and exploration in the area.

There has been a dramatic increase in exploration and drilling, particularly for coal-seam gas, in the basin in recent years.

The basin lies under one-fifth of Australia, and – along with coal seams – holds 65 billion megalitres of water. The fear is that drilling will break water-bearing seams, causing contamination and water loss.

“We are talking new technology for coal-seam gas, and there is big community angst out there about how they propose to do it,” committee chairman Jeff Austin said yesterday.

“We are being told it is all under control, but we don’t have enough evidence to satisfy ourselves that it won’t jeopardise the GAB in certain areas forever.”

Mr Austin said Basin residents were worried the water in the Great Artesian Basin – a huge national asset – could be jeopardised by exploration for those other assets, gas and petroleum. “We can’t treat them separately; one can’t proceed without proper consideration of the other,” he said.

The irony is the basin community is engaged in a 15-year, $477 million program, funded by federal and state governments and landholders, to pipe and cap open bores. About 1500ML flow out through bores every day, but up to 90 per cent is lost to evaporation and seepage.

Capping and piping the bores will result in big water savings, but Mr Austin said any damage to the aquifers “will make a nonsense of the amount of money that has been poured into the capping and piping program”.

Bernie Caffery is a crop management consultant based in Dalby, in southern Queensland, and a member of the GAB Protection Group. Mr Caffery said the overwhelming fear was what the extraction would do to the aquifers. “Inland Australia, it can’t do without that underground water,” he said.

Mr Caffery’s group is calling for a moratorium. “It has all happened so quickly and it is such a big footprint, the time hasn’t been allowed to do a study in each area to understand the impact of taking all that water out,” he said.


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