To date no official examination of the alleged breaches of health and environmental protection laws has been conducted into the approval process of the Santos and QGC coal seam gas projects in Queensland.
The Abbott Federal Government is now about to “fast-track” environmental approvals by putting full responsibility for the approval of coal seam gas (CSG) projects in the hands of the states.
With increased calls for a Royal Commission into Queensland's approval process, we examine the test case that the gas industry want to follow.
Sale of Coal Seam Gas before any projects approvals given
The Coordinator-General's Office in the Queensland Government Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning handles the assessments and approvals of infrastructure projects, including environmental and social impacts of projects such as coal seam gas licenses.
Ms Marsh said "I wrote that email to make sure that the deputy coordinator-generals, the assistant coordinator-generals and the project directors were aware that the information I had been preparing and that I had been drafting and sending through to the project directors was not making it into the final report."
"It was an impossible task. Firstly, the information wasn't there so you can't do an assessment without the basic site information, the baseline studies and an understanding of where the infrastructure was going to be laid, and which environmentally sensitive areas were going to be impacted," she said.
4 Corners obtained 900 pages of ROI (Right of Information) documents which verify Ms Marsh's claim.
4 Corners said: "The documents detail an approval process that was rushed, made with insufficient information, and put commercial considerations above environmental ones."
During Ms Marsh's assessment of the Santos project, she said she was shocked to find that the impacts to ground water for the Santos project were missing or inadequate. The Coordinator General did not wait for advice regarding groundwater assessment from DERM on the projects.
AgForce, under new management, issued a press release in April 2010:
'Under the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004, companies were required to lodge a report to document any anticipated impacts their activities will have on underground water and the environment'.
"The statutory requirements were in place back then, but the failure to set trigger thresholds until now has meant that these reports have not been lodged, and CSG operators have been operating almost unchecked for the past five years," AgForce mining taskforce chairman Ian Burnett said.
A Bankable Outcome
According to 4 Corners, a memo sent by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure to the coordinator-general in May 2010 explains why required elements under the Environmental Protection Act of the Santos EIS
were left out:
"It's very rare that I would every agree with anything my former opponent in City Hall days would say but on this occasion I support what he has suggested," Mr Newman said.
On 19 September the CMC announced 'it is important to note that the assessment did not examine matters of government policy or the environmental and health impacts of the coal seam gas industry as these issues do not fall within the CMC’s jurisdiction'.
“It was only within the CMC’s jurisdiction to assess whether the conduct of any person in this matter could have amounted to official misconduct.”
Rick Wilkinson, currently APPEA's chief operating officer for eastern Australia, was head of Santos's coal-seam gas projects until June 2011.
"Mr Wilkinson steered Santos through state and federal government approvals for its $15 billion project, and will continue the lobbying process on behalf of the whole industry," The Australian reported in 2011.
APPEA is conducting a $5 million advertising blitz to lobby government to rush through final approvals for others projects warning that approval delays, rising labour costs and “anti-gas misinformation” will jeopardise jobs and exports.
Until August, Eddie Obeid Jr, the son of corrupt former NSW Labor minister Eddie Obeid, was also a one-sixth shareholder.
The GBRMPA watered down their resistance to ports opening along the reef to allow the exportation of CSG.
Greens spokeswoman Senator Larissa Waters says the allegations are worrying and require investigation.
"Management of the reef must be free from mining interests, and members of the board should put the future of this World Heritage icon before their own self-interest and the profits of big miners.
Calls for a Royal Commission
“The pressure placed on public servants to approve CSG without proper scrutiny of its water and climate impacts is exactly why we oppose any further expansion of the industry and have moved in the federal Parliament for a permanent ban on CSG,” Senator Larissa Waters said.
"Sadly the CMC inquiry was nobbled without the jurisdiction to examine these facts," said Drew Hutton, the 2013 Environmentalist of the Year.
"Serious enquiries into these serious matters have not been undertaken, therefore the only real avenue to get to the truth is a Royal Commission," Mr Hutton said.