TWO of Queensland's largest resources projects were approved by public servants panicked by an order to sign off on them quickly.
Public servants at the two departments tasked with giving the official go-ahead to Queensland's new coal seam gas industry were blindsided by the former Bligh Government's demands that two of the gigantic projects be approved within weeks of each other, the Courier-Mail reports.
Documents obtained through a Courier-Mail investigation reveal that as the $18 billion Santos GLNG project was nearing its approval in May 2010, public servants were hit with the demands from the government to also tackle the $16 billion QGC project - and then the Origin-led APLNG proposal, approved in November of the same year.
And just days before the QGC approval was granted, public servants were warning the directors of the government's assessment team that they still had not been given any detailed information on pipelines and the location of wells.
They also warned a long list of environmental issues had not been fully analysed.
The approvals were made under the Bligh government but a spokesman for the Newman Government last night said the industry was "operating with no evidence of significant environmental damage or adverse outcomes that would give rise to concern".
The spokesman said the Government also did not have concerns about the approval process for the CSG industry, which will be worth $45 billion and will, at its peak this year, employ 21,000 Queenslanders.
"In the course of complex projects going through an EIS process over several years, people working on project teams express varying opinions at various times. These are taken into account during the evaluation," the spokesman said.
But while all the approvals had hundreds of environmental conditions attached, an email to the co-ordinator-general's office reveals the public servants were under the impression they had to provide a "bankable outcome" even without all the information that would normally be necessary for the government to grant approvals.
The documents show the director of environmental impact study assessment at the Department of Environment and Resource Management was told on May 1 the QGC draft assessment was needed within three days.
The director, Stuart Cameron, complained in an email sent on May 4: "We have not even started on the QGC conditions. I have consistently been advised by the Department of Infrastructure and Planning that QGC was down the track and that DIP had not even started writing their report.
"Once again I am faced with a physically impossible request, along with the other 80 EIS projects that are starting to slip."
But the public servant in charge of drafting the environmental response from the government's Co-ordinator-General, Simone Marsh, wrote the response to the GLNG EIS was rushed, insufficiently transparent, altered and lacking key impact assessment.
She made 26 objections to the process of approving the Santos GLNG project in an email to senior bureaucrats.
"It is clear the project's activities will lead to widespread, serious environmental harm and material environmental harm, as defined by the Environmental Protection Act, both during and following the removal, transportation and processing of coal seam gas," Ms Marsh wrote.
"I am concerned that the proponent has in recent days been submitting comments and requesting alterations to the draft Co-ordinator-General's report and that paragraphs containing important text appear to have been deleted and other changes made in a non-transparent manner and without adequate justification," Ms Marsh wrote.
The Federal Government also complained it had not been given an evaluation report on one project until after it was approved by the Queensland government.
Murray Vincent, who was in charge of drafting the environmental response to the QGC project, also warned that the Tara and Chinchilla areas were likely to suffer far more environmental harm than anywhere else in Queensland.
Asked to comment last night,
Australian Petroleum Production and Explorations Association spokesman Rick Wilkinson said industry was not in a position to comment on the effectiveness or the efficiency of the government approvals processes.
"The environmental impact assessments and the scientific data and modelling underpinning Gladstone's LNG industry has taken many years to complete and the industry welcomes any analysis or scrutiny of that work," Mr Wilkinson said.
Read more at the Courier-Mail.