Okay, so this is going to be a bit of a biggie. It’s jam packed with photos, so it may take a little while to load, but please stick it out and read on.
After the Abbey Festival, we got dropped back in Main Arm where we’d left ZZ, only to make the decision to turn around and drive back to Queensland the following day with our HelpX host to camp out at an anti-coal seam gas blockade. We stocked up on supplies, grabbed some gumboots and spent the whole next day driving up to Tara, which is a small town about 280km west of Brisbane.
At this stage, I feel that I only know the very basics of what there is to know about coal seam gas mining, and I am trying to educate myself as much as possible about this important issue. But for the time being, I’d like to share some of what I know. Coal seam gas is a type of unconventional gas (requiring specialised techniques for extraction of commercial quantities), comprising mostly methane. The practice of mining CSG involves drilling wells into the ground in order to release the gas from underground coal seams (usually between 300-1000m below the surface). Coal seams consist of water as well as gas, and it is the water pressure which holds the methane in the seam. In order to release the gas, the water must be pumped to the surface to depressurise the coal seam. This salty water can contain heavy metals, and toxic and radioactive compounds, and there is currently no appropriate and safe disposal method for it, so it is instead stored in massive open air evaporation ponds (or holding ponds), which are lined with builders plastic, before being transported to a treatment facility. Yeah, I know….sounds safe. While this practice has been banned for all future operations due to the risks involved (overflowing during rain, poor lining allowing seepage into soil), any current ones are still able to use them (and still do). Birds have been sighted swimming in these ponds, and a while back there was an article about a kangaroo having to be euthanised after becoming trapped inside one. The following image was sourced from www.news-mail.com.au
If the gas does not flow freely on its own, a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to stimulate the extraction process. Fracking is when a mixture of sand, water and chemicals is injected at high pressure into a well, causing fractures in the coal seam and allowing the gas to flow to the surface. Many of the chemicals used are potentially very dangerous, yet they have not been thoroughly tested for their effects. Not only that, but in Australia there is currently no requirement for gas companies to divulge which chemicals they are using as a part of the fracking process. While in the US, over 750 chemicals and compounds have been identified as being used in fracking, only 20 have been confirmed by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association as being used here in Australia. The use of some volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene has been banned in New South Wales and Queensland, however, these compounds occur naturally and can be released in the fracking process. Fracking has been linked to some bad shit, including water contamination and earthquakes, and some countries such as Bulgaria and France have banned it due to environmental concerns.
Other extremely worrying concerns about CSG mining include the loss of agricultural land and native forests (and the potential this has to impact on our food supply); the potential contamination and depletion of water systems and supplies; air, water and soil pollution and the ramifications for human and animal health; leaking of methane from wells and pipelines and off-gassing of compounds from holding ponds and compressor stations. All these factors that affect the future of our country, just so that something crazy like 80% of the gas extracted can be sold overseas. This is an aerial view of the gas fields in Tara (sourced from csgfreenorthernrivers.org). Keep in mind that this is in its ‘early stages’.
At the moment there are around 4000 wells in Queensland, but there are up to 40,000 wells planned for the state by 2030. Can you imagine what that might look like?
What is very alarming and upsetting about this whole situation is that lack of foresight from our government, who are so focused on the short-term monetary gain that they are willing to risk the future of our land, water and people. I don’t want to live in a gas field, I don’t want my children to live in a gas field. Hell, I don’t want anyone to live in a gas field! That’s why we need to say enough is enough, before it goes any further.
While in Tara we met many incredible people who came together to make a stand against CSG mining, and our time spent there has certainly inspired and left a great impact on us. The kindness and warmth we met from complete strangers was really something special. Not only that, we had heaps of fun too (all within the framework of peaceful, non-violent protest/civil disobedience). The more you learn about what is happening in our country and in our world, the less you are willing to sit back and passively let it happen. And with that, I’ll leave you with a whole bunch of photos from our couple of weeks in Tara.
If you would like to learn more about CSG mining, try checking out some documentaries on youtube, or starting with some of these websites which give a good, simplified overview;
Kumbarilla state ‘forest’
Shots from the Saturday march
Mission to see the methane bubbling out of the Condamine River
Some panels in the QGC Information Centre describing the wonderful work they are apparently doing
QGC: Queensland’s Greatest Cyclists