Members and friends are invited to study these policies and provide advice on improvements and additions.
To have no exploration and extraction of fossil fuels if it is to the detriment of food security - or the environment
Background and rationale
Coal seam gas (CSG) is methane mobilised and extracted from underground coal seams. Some parts of the world, such as the USA, have large areas of land from which coal seam gas is extracted. In Australia, exploration and extraction is underway in Queensland and NSW. Exploration is now taking place in most other states, including Victoria.
CSG exploration and development projects are contentious in terms of their potential disruption and damage to agriculture, the environment and to social fabric, and because of claims that some projects offer no advance over coal-fired power generation.
Objective information about the likely consequences of CSG exploration and extraction is scarce for three main reasons:
- Research is limited and impacts are poorly understood
- It is hard to obtain objective scientific information on the risks involved with both proposed and operating projects where damage has already occurred,
- Most information is provided by organisations with vested interest in the outcome (be they companies, governments, landholder or environmental groups).
There is a clear disjunct in the interpretation across the community about the relative costs and benefits of CSG mining development. The issues of concern to the EFN are:
- A lack of independent scientific knowledge on both the short-term and long-term impacts of CSG exploration and extraction, including cumulative effects of multiple projects.
- Groundwater issues associated with the potential for either contamination of groundwater reserves, or physical damage to their aquifers. Sources of potential contamination include compounds used in hydraulic fracturing, and salts and organic chemicals in the water naturally present in coal seams. Any physical damage from fracturing has the potential to cause leakage and cross contamination of other aquifers.
- Water use and disposal issues: competing water uses (large quantities of water used in the extraction process, reducing water availability for agriculture and other uses) and disposal of low quality waters (from dewatering and discharge of processing water).
- Community issues concerning: adequate consultation and clear disclosure of risks; visual, noise and traffic effects; local input to planning activities; compensation for disruptions and damage; community division and stress.
- EFN works to have farming communities operating at an optimum for environmental sustainability, and would be dismayed if Government allowed another industry to negate such work on the basis of short term economic gain.
- Energy availability is important, but we must reduce our total energy use, especially the use of fossil fuels. Whole-of-life estimates of the benefits of coal seam gas plants should be a part of rational decision making. The estimates should be undertaken, or refereed, by third parties and be open to the public
- Exploration and extraction of fossil sources of fuel should not be undertaken to the detriment of food security or the environment, unless very substantial greenhouse gas savings are clearly identified
- Governments should use proper planning, regulation and independent monitoring to ensure that risks are appropriately managed and that the true cost of operations is born by commercial entities and not the local or wider community.
- Exploration licence application processes must be accompanied by public consultation clearly outlining what the exploration and development licences involve and what to expect. This public consultation should be conducted in an ethical and transparent manner. If government is to promote and facilitate the activities of the CSG industry, it should also provide information to landholders on how to negotiate with companies and what to expect.
- Proponents of CSG projects must address any contamination and disposal issues prior to the issue of exploration licences.These risks should be addressed in an Environmental Effects Statement process (or equivalent interstate process) and involve transparent public consultation. The concept of acceptable risk needs to be clarified
- In areas where groundwater reserves are essential for high-value agricultural production or for stock water use, or in specific recharge areas for such reserves, CSG exploration and developments should be embargoed.
- Landholders and associated communities should be adequately compensated for any disadvantage and loss associated with exploration and development.