COAL-seam gas mining risks damaging vital aquifers, writes LARISSA WATERS
Wherever there is coal, there is coal-seam gas.
In Queensland, almost 4000 coal-seam gas wells are already operating, with 40,000 wells planned in the next 20 years.
Many of these are sitting right on our prime agricultural land, and scattered throughout the rich Darling Downs area.
Australia has just 4 per cent of good-quality agricultural land, much of it in the southern states of Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania.
These states are all next in line for the voracious coal-seam gas industry.
In Victoria alone, as reported by The Weekly Times last month, there are already more than a dozen CSG exploration applications, from Werribee in the west to large tracts of the Macalister irrigation district in the east.
Yet there are many critical unanswered questions about the long-term impacts of CSG on agricultural land and our groundwater resources, our food security and our environment.
CSG drilling risks creating connections between aquifers, which could lead to a drop in the groundwater table from de-watering of coal seams to allow gas extraction, contamination of groundwater with hydraulic fracturing fluid or cross-contamination of natural toxins occurring within the coal seams.
And in the driest inhabited continent in the world, the coal-seam gas industry regards water as a waste product.
The water brought to the surface through CSG extraction often has high concentrations of sodium, creating millions of tonnes of salt to be disposed.
If we risk our groundwater, we also risk our prime agricultural land and our ability to feed ourselves into the future.
With the seven billionth human being born this week, it is small wonder that farmers, scientists and communities are deeply concerned about the runaway coal-seam gas industry.
But there are few obstacles in the way of the CSG industry.
If a coal-seam gas company want to explore and mine for CSG on your prime agricultural land, you have no right to refuse them.
And while the federal Environment Minister can consider some of the environmental impacts of a CSG operation during the approvals process, the impact on water resources is not one of them.
Regulation of the CSG industry has mostly been left to the states, whose short-sighted grab for royalties has allowed the industry's rampant expansion to go largely unchecked.
Yesterday, I introduced a new Bill into the Senate that would give the Federal Government the power to protect water resources from all mining activities, including CSG.
Food security and water are national issues that deserve protection at the national level.
This Bill joins my Landholders' Right to Refuse Bill on coal-seam gas also before the Senate, which would give farmers the right to say no to coal-seam gas mining activities on their land.
While this Bill hasn't moved to a vote yet, Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals have all spoken out against it.
When I moved a motion in September for a moratorium on new CSG approvals until we had a chance to do the proper research into the long-term impacts of coal seam gas, this was voted down by the old parties.
But the Greens aren't completely alone in representing the concerns of the community about CSG in Parliament.
This is a great idea that would give us a much clearer picture of what CSG is doing to aquifers, flood plains, native vegetation, farmland and native species.
Water is the most valuable resource our country has, and it must be protected.
Without action, Victoria and NSW will soon follow in Queensland's footsteps and have their prime agricultural land threatened by coal-seam gas mining.
It's time for the Government and the Coalition to stop focusing on short-term CSG profits and start listening to the valid concerns of Australian communities about our water, our food security and our future.