Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


Coal Seam Gas

8:24 pm

Photo of Glenn LazarusGlenn Lazarus (Queensland, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the short time I have been working for the people of Queensland as a senator for the sunshine state, I have come across many issues. One of the most distressing issues involves the plight of farmers and the property owners in rural and regional Queensland. On the weekend I travelled to Dalby and Chinchilla to speak at a community forum regarding the harmful impact of coal seam gas mining in the region and to tour properties affected by CSG mining. The forum was organised by wonderful local people, including the lovely Shay Dougall. The people of Chinchilla have come together to support each other in the wake of a CSG mining tsunami which is ripping the region apart. While most people in city and urban areas across Australia get on with their daily lives, the good people of rural and regional Queensland are being devastated by the impacts of CSG mining.

CSG mining is one of the most contentious and environmentally and socially destructive forms of gas extraction known to the developed world. CSG mining involves drilling holes deep down into the earth to tap into gas trapped in coal seams. Coal seam gas is principally methane found in underground coal seams, where it is trapped by natural water pressure. Often the coal seam gas is found below premium agricultural land. To extract the gas, CSG mining companies undertake drilling, often horizontal drilling across large areas of land, to access underground coal seams. They inject a toxic and poisonous mixture of chemicals into the ground to ease the extraction of water and gas.

In many cases, they need to undertake fracking to break up the underground coal seams to extract the gas. This involves the injection of vast volumes of water under pressure, combined with a mixture of chemicals to break up the underground earth, to fast track the process of gas extraction. The chemicals and compounds used in fracking are mostly unknown. Gas companies do not disclose their toxic recipes. When gas companies drill down deep into the earth to extract the gas, they also extract vast volumes of water from the underground watertable. The produced water, which is water that has been extracted and or injected and then extracted with the megatoxic cocktail of chemicals and compounds, is then dumped into ponds which sit on people's properties.

In Queensland, landowners have virtually no rights. Incredibly, landowners in rural and regional Queensland do not have the right to say no to CSG mining on their properties. As a result, the industry has enjoyed unrestrained growth, and, in the view of many, unlimited access to people's land. We are talking about land on which the people of Queensland live, farm, manage their stock, run their businesses, raise their families and play with their kids. CSG companies simply knock on the door and, through bullying, intimidation, threatening behaviour, unrelenting pressure and other tactics, force their way onto people's land. They threaten farmers with legal action or tell them that they will take them to the Land Court. Landowners are left distressed and feeling like they have no option but to be forced into lifelong contracts to have CSG mining undertaken on their properties because they cannot afford the cost of a lawyer to help them out.

People living on the land in Chinchilla are not connected to the town water. They get their water from dams, bores and wells. Queenslanders survive on groundwater, which they access from their own land. This water is their lifeblood. They use the water to live and shower. They use it to feed their stock, water their crops and operate day to day. But thanks to CSG mining, they now have no water, and what water they have is being contaminated by CSG mining—mining which is taking place on their own property, as well as on properties nearby. Because CSG mining rapes the land, it bleeds the underground watertable dry, and it will take hundreds of years for the water to return underground, if at all. Farmers' wells and bores have gone dry. People in regional and rural Queensland have no water. Instead, methane gas pours from their bores and wells.

Farmers and their families are becoming ill. They are suffering from headaches, breathing issues and a range of other health problems. Children are having seizures and are waking up with blood noses. Farm animals are losing their hair and are dying. The toxic chemicals used in coal seam gas extraction are making their way into the land, the air, the water and, unfortunately, into the people.

From above, the land in Chinchilla is littered with CSG wells, networks of piping, plants, wells, ponds, low-point drains, high-point valves and other infrastructure. The value of properties affected by CSG mining has plummeted. Farmers cannot sell their land and their land is now worthless because it no longer includes clean safe water.

While I support the resource sector and value its role in our society, we cannot and must not allow the health of our people to be compromised. Therefore, I would like the government to establish a royal commission into the human impact of mining, in particular, CSG mining and establish a resources ombudsman. An independent resources ombudsman would provide the people of Australia with a point of contact to resolve mining and CSG mining issues. The ombudsman would be an advocate for the people. It is about time these people had someone on their side.

In my home state of Queensland, all levels of government have let the people of Queensland down. We provide legal aid at the expense of taxpayers to assist people charged with sex offences against children yet we are allowing the decent and hard-working people of rural and regional Queensland to have their lives decimated by CSG mining without any assistance or access to taxpayer funded support.

I cannot believe that this type of thing is happening in Australia but it is. All Australians should be very concerned. Farmers and land owners across Queensland are being treated in the most deplorable manner. These people are Australians who have served in our military to defend our country, have lost relatives who have fought and died for our nation. These people are part of the very fabric of our country. They do not deserve this treatment and they deserve our help.

Let us start to make things right today. A royal commission into the human impact of CSG mining and the establishment of a resources ombudsman will take us in the right direction.