Monday, 1 May 2017

Left unchecked the gas & coal mining sectors will be the death of the Great Artesian Basin and what is left of the Great Barrier Reef

According to an August 2016 Report Commissioned By The Australian Government And Great Artesian Basin Jurisdictions Based On Advice From The Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is one of the largest underground freshwater reservoirs in the world. It underlies approximately 22% of Australia – occupying an area of over 1.7 million square kilometres beneath arid and semi-arid parts of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Approximately 70% of the GAB lies within Queensland…..

The first people to make use of GAB water were Indigenous tribes for whom it was critical to survival. Indeed, there is evidence that the GAB sustained Aboriginal people for thousands of years prior to European settlement.

The natural springs of the GAB provided a critical source of fresh water, and supported valuable food sources including birds, mammals, reptiles, crustaceans and insects, creating an abundant hunting ground for local tribes. The plants and trees around the artesian springs were used for food, medicine, materials and shelter.

The springs provided semi-permanent oases in the desert and supported trade and travel routes which evolved around them. The springs also played a key part in the spiritual and cultural beliefs of Aboriginal people. Ceremonies and other events were held at spring wetland areas which remain precious cultural and sacred sites. Numerous Creation stories feature a connection to groundwater.

This underground freshwater reservoir holds 65,000 million megalitres much of which fell as rain 1 to 2 million years ago, but not all of this water is in accessible layers.

For assessment purposes the GAB is divided into four regions – Carpentaria, Central Eromanga, Western Eromanga and the Surat Basin.

In 1878 the first bore was sunk to draw water from the Great Artesian Basin.

In modern Australia its economic values are shared by towns, agriculture, cattle & sheep grazing and industry/mining across the four basin regions.

The Courier map based on a 22 August 2016 report
The report points out that Water has historically been extracted from the GAB at a greater rate than recharge and this creates a problem for 21st Century Australia.

Professor of Environmental Sciences Derek Eamus, University of Technology, 18 June 2015:

As the pressure in the GAB has declined and the water table drops, mound springs (where groundwater is pushed to the ground surface under pressure) have begun to dry up in South Australia and Queensland. Associated paperbark swamps and wetlands are also being lost and it gets more and more expensive to extract the groundwater for irrigation and other commercial applications.

On average, rates of groundwater extraction across Australia has increased by about 100 per cent between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, reflecting both the increased population size and commercial usage of groundwater stores.

Despite the strain on water resources, the gas and coal mining industries are allowed virtually unlimited water extraction from within the Great Artesian Basin and where the few limits are placed on extraction it is poorly policed by government agencies.

This is a graph of coal seam gas, conventional gas and petroleum industry water use 1995-2015:

Source:.DNRM 2016, p. 62.

The Adani Group’s most recent water licence for the Carmichael coal project issued in April 2017 allows it to take a virtually unlimited volume of groundwater each year for the next 60 years, plus surface water – with minimum oversight.

The Environmental Defender’s Office (Qld) states that: It is expected that Adani may require up to 9.5 billion litres of groundwater every year for the Carmichael project.

Poor management by Adani of its Abbot’s Point coal waste has already led to a smothering of the vibrant, nationally important Caley Wetlands with run-off via its estuarine system expected to reach adjacent waters of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Satellite image of Caley Wetlands after emergency water release by Adani - now covered in coal waste.
A picture of the Abbot Point coal loading facility showing coal water run-off moving north-west into the wetlands and coal dust on the beaches. The Age, 12 April 2017, Photo: Dean Sewell
Coal dust on the beaches next to the Abbot Point coal loading facility  Photo: Dean Sewell/Oculi

On 10 March 2015 ABC News reported:

Hundreds of square kilometres of prime agricultural land in southeast Queensland are at risk from a cocktail of toxic chemicals and explosive gases, according to a secret State Government report.

A study commissioned by Queensland's environment department says an experimental plant operated by mining company Linc Energy at Chinchilla, west of Brisbane, is to blame and has already caused "irreversible" damage to strategic cropping land.

The department, which has launched a $6.5 million criminal prosecution of the company, alleges Linc is responsible for "gross interference" to the health and wellbeing of former workers at the plant as well as "serious environmental harm".

The 335-page experts' report, obtained by the ABC, has been disclosed to Linc but not to landholders.

It says gases released by Linc's activities at its underground coal gasification plant at Hopeland have caused the permanent acidification of the soil near the site.

Experts also found concentrations of hydrogen in the soil at explosive levels and abnormal amounts of methane, which they say is being artificially generated underground, over a wide area.

The region is a fertile part of the Western Darling Downs and is used to grow wheat, barley and cotton and for cattle grazing, with some organic producers.

Other documents, released to the ABC by the magistrate in charge of the criminal case, show four departmental investigators were hospitalised with suspected gas poisoning during soil testing at the site in March.

"My nausea lasted for several hours. I was also informed by the treating doctor that my blood tests showed elevated carbon monoxide levels (above what was normal)," one of the investigators said.

High levels of cancer-causing benzene were detected at the site afterwards.

On 9 February 2017 ABC News was still reporting on the contamination:

Flammable levels of hydrogen have been found at a number of locations near the site of a controversial gas project that has been blamed for contaminating huge swathes of prime Queensland farm land.

The ABC understands an ongoing Environment Department investigation has confirmed that the contamination is much more widespread than previously thought.

The Queensland Government has dispatched Environment Department officers to the Hopeland community, near Chinchilla in the state's south, and is setting up a call centre to help explain the situation to landholders…..

Due to fears about possible hydrogen explosions, the Government has been enforcing a 314-square kilometre "excavation caution zone" around the Linc plant, with landholders banned from digging any hole deeper than two metres.

The ABC understands further investigation by the Environment Department has now found flammable levels of hydrogen at locations outside the current caution zone.

The hydrogen has been detected underground and the department says it dissipates quickly in the open air.

Government sources have stressed the gas is not of an explosive concentration but landholders will be encouraged to exercise caution.

Left unchecked the mining industry will bring the Great Artesian Basin closer to collapse.

It is not as if either federal or state governments ever fully realise the supposed financial gains allowing this environmental degradation was supposed to bring to their treasuries.

In 2007-08 the Australian Taxation Office released taxation data which showed that 68.8 per cent of all mining companies on its books paid no tax in that financial year. In 2009-10 the percentage of mining companies paying no tax had risen to 73.1 per cent and in in 2010-11 the percentage of mining companies paying no tax was 72.2 per cent. By 2013-14 a total of 60 per cent of publicly listed energy and resources companies did not pay tax and again in 2014-15 60 per cent of all energy and resources companies paid no tax.

Add to this the fact that Adani in Australia in estimated to have paid only 0.008 percent in tax on their total income in 2014-2015 and is structured in such a way that its tax burden is artificially lowered and a significant proportion of its profits move offshore to the Cayman Islands tax haven.

It isn’t hard to see a pattern developing here.

Maximum environmental, cultural, social and economic risk for Australia with minimal financial return on risk.

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