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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Draining the Lifeblood - Fracking the Great Artesian Basin - The AIM Network

Draining the Lifeblood - Fracking the Great Artesian Basin - The AIM Network

Draining the Lifeblood – Fracking the Great Artesian Basin

The NSW Baird government is pushing ahead with plans to expand the
state’s coal seam gas industry, after getting the green light from NSW
chief scientist Mary O’Kane last week. O’Kane delivered her final report to the Baird government about the state of the CSG industry in NSW, following 19 months of research and investigations.

The report rubber stamped the expansion of CSG developments in the
state, concluding that the environmental and health risks can be managed
through rigorous monitoring and management. However, she did warn of the “unintended consequences” that inevitably come with the industry,

“It is inevitable that the CSG
industry will have some unintended consequences, including as the result
of accidents, human error and natural disasters… Industry, government
and the community need to work together to plan adequately to mitigate
such risks.” ~
NSW Chief Scientist Mary O’Kane

Despite former Premier Barry O’Farrell placing a temporary moratorium on new Petroleum Exploration Licence applications in early 2014, it is expected that CSG exploration licenses will start being approved again shortly.

“I don’t wait for anyone — I’m a smash or smash through person and we are going to drive ahead” , NSW Energy Minister Anthony Roberts said on Friday. Premier Baird reiterated this stance.

“Do we want coal seam gas? Absolutely
we do. Do we want coal seam gas in balance with ensuring there’s not
damage to our water aquifers? That’s absolutely where we stand.”
   ~ NSW Premier Mike Baird

Image: The Global Mail

Risking our most scarce resource

But another scientific report released this week has warned of a very
real real threat to Australia’s water supply as a result of CSG

The report, ‘Great Artesian Basin Recharge Systems and Extent of Petroleum and Gas Leases’,
was commissioned by the Artesian Bore Water Users Association and
questions the ability of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) to withstand the
large scale water extraction necessary to support the coal seam gas

Shockingly, it shows that “80% of the Great Artesian Basin has a gas, petroleum or CSG exploration or production license over it.”

Why is the Great Artesian Basin so important?

The GAB is the lifeblood of the eastern half of Australia, running
from Cape York to Cooper Pedy, and covering almost a quarter of the
Australian continent. It contains 65,000 cubic kms of groundwater, released to the surface under pressure through natural springs and artesian bores.

Bores are the sole water source for 22% of
the Australian landmass. As such, the GAB has allowed life to develop
in inland Australia over thousands of years, sustaining Aboriginal
Australians who relied on the springs for freshwater and wetlands in our
most hostile centre. Many dreamtime stories feature a connection to the
groundwater, which provided oases in the desert for ceremonies, trade
and travel.

Today, people in these rural, drought impacted communities continue
to depend on the bores for farming – the livelihood of many in these

The groundwater held in GAB has accumulated over tens to hundreds of
thousand of years, from so-called ‘recharge beds’ primarily around the
margins of the basin. Today, these recharge areas don’t add
significantly to the GAB’s volume but crucially provide the pressure
which keeps groundwater flowing to the surface.

Importantly, the waters of the GAB are a finite resource. If drained
beyond its natural ability to regenerate itself, large scale
environmental and social problems are a certainty.

Rapid expansion of CSG licenses in NSW

Gas and petroleum exploration and production are the greatest threats
to the Great Artesian Basin today, These extractive industries require massive volumes
of Australia’s scarcest resource, water, to frack, drill and mine the
earth, impacting the water table and bore pressure. The waste water is
then released back into the environment, containing a toxic mix of
chemical pollutants and carcinogens.

With a high percentage of the GAB’s recharge areas covered by gas/petroleum licenses, the pressure of the Basin is under threat.

A key area for groundwater recharge has been identified in the
Pilliga region in state’s northwest, where CSG company Santos has been
conducting exploration drilling and rapidly expanding their operations since 2011. According to the report,

“The area of highest recharge within
NSW is in the Pilliga Sandstones and associated colluvial fans of the
East Pilliga. This area is almost completely covered with exploration
licenses at this time.”

Image: The Wilderness Society

According to
Queensland University soil scientist Robert Banks, the loss of water
pressure due to CSG drilling may be enough to stop bore flow completely
throughout the basin. In this scenario, pumps would be required to move
water to the surface, which would cost billions of dollars. Who’s going
to foot the bill?

Unintended consequences

The Great Artesian Basin is essential to life for almost a quarter of
the country, but it impacts all Australians from coast to coast. If it
dried up, Australia would be a markedly different place.

This week, as the NSW government indicated its intention to green
light the expansion of CSG development, a town called Denton in North
Texas became the first in the state to ban fracking. Texas is the birthplace of fracking, a state where the controversial method is still widely used today.

In recent years, entire nations have banned fracking outright –
France, Germany, Ireland and Bulgaria – with many other countries and
regions placing moratoriums on CSG operations until further impact
studies are completed.

Are we willing to accept “unintended consequences” when communities are living within 200m of leaking CSG wells?

Image: The Wilderness Society

A major issue that needs to be addressed is the need for a Basin wide
approach to gas and petroleum approvals and licenses. Currently the GAB
is administered across four states – NSW, QLD, SA and NT – with no standards or coordination across the entire Basin.

But opposition to CSG in Australia is stronger than ever and growing daily. 5,000 recently turned out
in Lismore to protest against gas licenses in the region. A blockade
has long been in place in the Pilliga, supporting the local community
against the expansion of Santos’ CSG drilling. Residents of Gloucester
are also protesting against AGL’s proposed 330-well project. And with
more and more small towns declaring themselves Gasfield Free every
month, it’s not going to be an easy win for Big Gas.

Banjo Paterson’s 1896 ‘Song of the Artesian Water’’, best sums
up the importance of the life-giving Great Artesian Basin to the
Australian landscape. Risking this vital lifeblood is something we can’t
afford to do.

“It is flowing, ever flowing, in a free, unstinted measure
From the silent hidden places where the old earth hides her treasure…
By the silent belts of timber, by the miles of blazing plain
It is bringing hope and comfort to the thirsty land again.
…To the tortured, thirsty cattle, bringing gladness in its going; 
It is flowing, ever flowing, further down” ~ Banjo Paterson

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