Commonwealth Hansard House of Representatives 26 November 2012:
Coal Seam Gas
Ms SAFFIN (Page) (22:26): I want to speak about three aspects of the coal seam gas debate. It is a vexed issue in my seat of Page. Overwhelmingly the community is saying no. State government legislation says yes, and one local company, Metgasco, says this gives them a social licence because they have the approval of the state government. But they do not have community acceptance and therefore they do not have the social licence.
The key issue is water. In 2010, the National Water Commission produced a position statement on coal seam gas called 'The coal seam gas and water challenge'. Under the heading 'Potential risks to sustainable water management,' it says:
Extracting large volumes of low-quality water will impact on connected surface and groundwater systems, some of which may already be fully or over allocated, including the Great Artesian Basin and the Murray-Darling Basin.
Impacts on other water users and the environment may occur due to the dramatic depressurisation of the coal seam, including:
Changes in pressures of adjacent aquifers with consequential changes in water availability
Reductions in surface water flows in connected systems
Land subsidence over large areas, affecting surface water systems, ecosystems, irrigation and grazing lands.
The production of large volume of treated wastewater, if released to surface water systems, could alter natural flow patterns and have significant impacts on water quality, and river and wetland health. There is an associated risk that, if the water is overly treated, 'clean water' pollution of naturally turbid systems may occur.
The practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fraccing, to increase gas output, has the potential to induce connection and cross-contamination between aquifers, with impacts on groundwater quality.
The reinjection of treated wastewater into other aquifers has the potential to change the beneficial use characteristics of those aquifers.
The position statement goes on to say:
The Commission is concerned that CSG development represents a substantial risk to sustainable water management given the combination of material uncertainty about water impacts, the significance of potential impacts, and the long time period over which they may emerge and continue to have effect. Therefore, an adaptive and precautionary management approach will be essential to allow for progressive improvement in the understanding of impacts, including cumulative effects, and to support timely implementation of 'make good' arrangements.
It goes on to detail 11 principles:
Specifically, the Commission proposes the following principles be applied by state and territory jurisdictions to managing the cumulative impacts of CSG water:
The interception of water by CSG extraction should be licensed to ensure it is integrated into water sharing processes from their inception.
In the conclusion, it says:
The consequences of not managing the water risks and uncertainties associated with the economic benefits of CSG are substantial.
In 2012 the commission updated that statement, and in essence it says that the framework outlined in 2010 is still the framework that applies today.
The second issue is that the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development has been established as a statutory committee—that was a national partnership agreement with states and territories—and in essence the independent expert scientific committee in certain areas will conduct bioregional assessments that look at particularly the impact on water with mining and coal seam gas mining, and until we know the result of that process my view is there should be no coal seam gas mining activity at all on the land. The third issue is fugitive emissions. People have been asking me whether fugitive emissions arising from coal seam gas are part of the whole carbon scheme, meaning the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Yes, they are, and the methods for coal seam gas are currently being reviewed by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency as part of the annual review of emissions estimation methods. (Time expired)