Monday, 15 May 2017

Memo to all federal and state members of parliament: The Great Artesian Basin is not a vast underground sea of fresh water so stop treating it as if it is

Figure 1. The Great Artesian Basin; spring cluster data sourced from Fensham (2006Fensham, R. 2006. Spring wetlands of the Great Artesian Basin. Paper for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, Department of Environment and Heritage, Canberra. December 16, 2014). ).

It is long past time that all parliamentarians of every political persuasion ceased robbing the nation of its present and future water security with their petty partisan politics and insane reliance on ideology over scientific fact.

In simple language Kim de RijkePaul Munro & Maria de Lourdes Melo Zurita point out that the Great Artesian Basin is not an endless supply of fresh water and to treat it as such is dangerous.

Taylor & Francis Online, 11 February 2016:

Excerpt from Society & Natural ResourcesAn International Journal  Volume 29, 2016 - Issue 6: Thinking Relationships Through Water

With regard to the process of extracting gas and subterranean water, a commonality in the submissions of CSG companies and state governments is the simplification of the GAB. It is constructed as a large, well-understood, and unproblematic body of underground water:

[The GAB is] equivalent to approximately 22% of Australia’s land mass. Compared to the total storage capacity of the GAB, the amount of water projected to be extracted during CSG production is very small … the annual water extraction is likely to be less than 0.0002% of total storage. This is the equivalent of taking approximately 5 litres out of an Olympic sized swimming pool. (Australia Pacific LNG 2011, The Senate Inquiry, Submission 368).

Water, in such submissions, is a simplified and abstracted object of nature to be represented solely in terms of volumes and percentages. It is exemplar of Jamie Linton’s (2014 Linton, J. 2014. Modern water and its discontents: A history of hydrosocial renewal. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water1 (1):111–20. doi:10.1002/wat2.1009 [CrossRef], [Google Scholar]) notion of “modern water’” a particular way of knowing and relating to water abstracted from its local, social, cultural, religious, and ecological contexts. The anxiety-riddled relationships between the arid region overlying the GAB and water resources are posited as insignificant to extractive practices. Such instrumental and rationalist simplification is part of discursive strategies to produce a view of subterranean water amenable to the (economic) growth of the modern state (Linton 2010 Linton, J. 2010. What is water? The history of a modern abstraction. Vancouver, BC, Canada: UBC Press. [Google Scholar]; 2014 Linton, J. 2014. Modern water and its discontents: A history of hydrosocial renewal. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water1 (1):111–20. doi:10.1002/wat2.1009 [CrossRef], [Google Scholar]; Finewood and Stroup 2012 Finewood, M. H., and L. J. Stroup. 2012. Fracking and the neoliberalization of the hydro-social cycle in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education 147 (1):72–79. doi:10.1111/j.1936-704x.2012.03104.x[CrossRef], [Google Scholar]). The final Senate Inquiry report, however, chided some CSG company submissions, noting that

[The GAB] is not a vast underground ‘sea’ in which levels and pressures quickly and uniformly adjust to the extraction of water from one part. Rather it is a highly complex system of geological formations at a range of depths, of variable permeability holding water of different quality, at different pressures and through which water flows at very different rates, if it flows at all. The reduction in pressure in a coal seam will result in a local fall in the water level and pressure in that particular area which may alter the rate and direction of the movement of groundwater in adjacent formations. The impact of this change may take many years to have a measurable impact on adjacent aquifers. Similarly the contingent loss of water from adjacent aquifers may not be made good by natural recharge for decades or even centuries. (RATRC 2011, 19)

Discursive attempts by CSG proponents to portray a simplified body of subterranean water thus sit uneasily alongside broader scientific narratives of the GAB. A critical scientific challenge, as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO, cited in RATRC 2011 Management of the Murray Darling Basin interim report: The impact of mining coal seam gas on the management of the Murray Darling Basin. Commonwealth of Australia 2011 Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee. (accessed February 8, 2016). , 19) notes, is “to visualize its exact structure.” While the GAB is no longer described as a source of “mystery water” (Powell 2011 Powell, O. C. 2011, Great Artesian Basin: Water from deeper down. In Queensland historical atlas: Histories, cultures, landscapes.(accessed February 8, 2016).), disparities point to continuing knowledge contests fuelled by the limitations of geological modeling technologies that aim to make “darkness visible” (Shortland 1994 Shortland, M. 1994. Darkness visible: Underground culture in the golden age of geology. History of Science 31 (1):1–61. doi:10.1177/007327539403200101 [CrossRef], [Google Scholar]).

Read the full article here.

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