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Aussies Against Fracking
Welcome to Coal-Seam-Gas.com where we provide the
opportunity for Citizen Journalists to publish
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Rural Vet Practice Survive Mining?
The reality of Australia’s resources boom.
Coal and coal seam gas mining (CSG) are rapidly spreading
across Australia’s best farmlands whilst the world’s agricultural scientists are
worried about the planet’s ability to feed its future population.
Mining threatens the economic and ecological viability of
Australian farming, rural communities and businesses including veterinary
Australian Farming in Brief (Australian
Bureau of Statistics, September 2012), shows a 10% decrease in total
agricultural land area between 2001 and 2011 (1).
Communities across Queensland’s Darling Downs, the Liverpool Plains and the
Hunter Valley (NSW) are experiencing a dramatic loss of family farms (2).
A group of vets are now concerned enough to speak out,
joining community action groups working for the survival of environment,
agriculture and rural communities in our best farming areas.
Australia’s scarce resources:
Soil and Water
statistics surrounding the impact of coal and coal seam gas mining in farmland
are frightening. Barely 4% of Australia is high quality arable farmland whose
fertile soils have taken thousands of years to form.
Remediation back to high quality cropping activities after
open cut mining or widespread salt and chemical contamination cannot occur,
irrespective of the false claims from industry.
the driest continent and after our worst drought, questions need to be asked
about the potential for these mining developments to deplete or contaminate
aquifers and river catchments across eastern Australia.
CSG extracts huge volumes of water contaminated with heavy
metals, trace elements, salts, radioactive nucleotides and volatile hydrocarbon
This water is released from deep coal
seams and comes to the surface with methane gas.
The Federal Government’s Water group has produced varying
estimates of water extracted from Australia’s underground water reserves but
figures up to 1500 gigalitres/ year and more have been sited (3).
The industry is expanding across farms, floodplains and
aquifers without any definite solutions to these water and waste problems.
Proposed clean-up of this water with reverse osmosis (RO) requires large
retention dams receiving contaminated salt waste.
Industry and governments admit aquifer drawdown will
occur, but unknowns include cumulative impacts of tens of thousands of wells
piercing these aquifers and a full understanding of aquifer interconnectivity.
A federal Senate Inquiry in 2011 recommended a halt to CSG
expansion across the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) until independent science had
answered the numerous questions regarding water resources (4).
These recommendations have been ignored.
The National Water Commission estimates 31 million tonnes
of salt will be produced by CSG extraction over 30 years, some 700,000 tonnes
per year! (3)
This amount would fill 15 Melbourne
cricket grounds. The quantities are so large that transporting it off the
floodplains ‘would require 200 tankers operating 24 hours/day travelling 500 kms’
No feasible disposal methods has been found however one
company already has approval to build a salt pit the size of four Melbourne
Cricket Grounds (3) within the Darling River floodplain.
An Industrialised Landscape
Forty thousand gas wells are proposed for the Surat and Bowen
Basins in Queensland (3), covering much of the Darling Downs and the Springsure/
Emerald regions; the best farmland in Queensland.
Each well has connecting pipelines for gas and water plus
access roads; adding over 40,000 kms of connecting pipes and roads to wells,
spaced approximately 1km apart. Further pipelines connect this network to
collection and compressor stations and then to Gladstone Port.
There will be enough CSG pipes in Queensland to cross
Australia twelve times from Sydney to Perth!
more major gas fields are being proposed or under development in NSW, Victoria
and WA. CSG infrastructure criss-crosses arable cropping land with roads, waste
water holding dams and compressor stations: all the hallmarks of an
industrialised landscape (3).
Industrial development on such a scale has never before
been seen in Australia.
For anyone who pauses for
thought, these are worrying numbers. On conservative estimates 2 to 5% of pipes
and well casings will be leaking at any one time.
This level is acceptable for industry however what it
means for farmers and the MDB is as many as 2000 leaking wells or pipelines,
leaking methane, volatile organics and heavy metal contaminated salty water.
Leakage in areas of cropping, livestock production and
human habitation is unacceptable.
geochemists from Southern Cross University (5, 6, 7) have released the only
Australian research on methane concentrations in the Tara gas fields in
Their findings indicate high levels of methane resulting
from fugitive emissions. Independent US studies have also revealed widespread
fugitive methane emissions from gas wells (8, 9, 10).
If methane is leaking, are the highly dangerous volatile
organics leaking too? What of the serious health effects of these leaks on
people and livestock?
Impacts on Animal Health and Production
concerned about health and production threats arising from heavy
These accumulate over
time with full damage not seen until after mining ends.
Questions must be raised about our domestic animals’ exposure
to a cocktail of chemical pollutants including lead, mercury, antimony, arsenic
and cadmium, released from coal mines and CSG wells.
Many major floodplains are now, or will become, dotted with
holding dams and waste storage facilities.
We know during the 2010/2011 floods a number of dams were
breeched; however there is no available data on volumes, concentrations,
directions of flow or levels of residual contaminants (11).
Neither public nor landholders have access to any helpful
information because these reports are held as ‘commercial in confidence’.
In Australia and USA landholders with CSG activities on their
properties are compelled to sign confidentiality agreements which stop them
speaking publically of any problems.
Bamberger and Oswald (12) have described a number of
adverse events from shale gas mining in the USA resulting in significant stock
deaths and morbidity.
Their paper also highlights
the difficulties faced in obtaining information regarding spill events.
Coal related health problems affect both urban and rural
Australians due to uncovered trains and coal stockpiles. Doctors for the
Environment Australia have become vocal critics of the health effects from coal
There is however a shortage of published
independent science into health and production impacts of coal dust on grazing
Stock adjacent to coal mining have 24 hour/day contact
with coal dust in air and on feed. Farmers immediately adjacent to open cut coal
mines suggest production and fertility problems and ‘black lung’ in slaughtered
Where else can a neighbouring industry
destroy another’s production capacity without consequence? When life quality or
production becomes difficult many farmers sell to the mines. Farms may become
weed infested and lost to production until eventually destroyed by mine
Community and veterinary losses
At Acland, near Oakey on the Darling Downs, an open cut coal
mine started ten years ago. Since then over 50 towns people and 60 family
operated farms have been bought out by the mine and district production has
declined. These were farms involved in high value beef, cropping, pigs, poultry,
dairying and horse breeding.
Family farms have
working dogs and companion animals: all requiring veterinarians and their
Business activity within Oakey has
suffered; the sale yards, grain depot and private abattoir closed.
Manufacturing and retail business has dropped, particularly
in agricultural related industries. The number of vets working in the district
has also declined.
Economic studies suggest more
jobs may have been lost from Oakey than created by the local coal mine.
Closing a farm is the equivalent of shutting down a small to
medium sized business, with many upstream and downstream impacts resulting from
Small towns in mining regions suffer
from social dislocation and economic loss created by fly in fly out (FIFO) work
forces. CSG infrastructure and new mega coal mines especially use a FIFO
These workers do not join local sports clubs, nor spend
most income locally, their children don’t attend local schools nor do they bring
companion animals with them.
operations use services and suppliers contracted from outside the region so
often few local benefits are seen.
Towns lose population and the myriad associated services
in education, health, finance and transport. Less population means fewer
In the Hunter Valley
thoroughbred studs, dairies, pastoral activities and cropping are currently
affected by coal dust and will be threatened by CSG in the future.
Dairy farms have closed and been sold to mining companies
because it is impossible to keep the coal dust out of the milk vats. Vineyards
struggle with coal dust on their vines and in their wineries.
State Governments toy with us by bringing in ‘Strategic
cropping land’ legislation. They say that intensive cropping and CSG can
co-exist. The Senate Inquiry’s findings disagree (4).
How can GPS controlled ploughing rigs manage roads and
pipelines criss-crossing a paddock?
How do farmers remediate for spills and leaks?
How does ‘trucking in water for emergency water losses’
solve long term losses of ground water for stock or cropping?
How can farmers withstand the potential doubling of wells
on their properties, to 500 metres or less apart?
End the silence
Vets in many
regions are becoming vocal, speaking out in defence of their communities and
Our communities need independent scientists and informed
professionals who can question the validity of information that mining companies
disseminate; people who are not intimidated by miners’ demands and scare
Our profession needs to stand up and help our neighbours
Losing farmland at 1% per year is concern enough, but when
compounded by climate change and further drought, will it result in rural vets
becoming another endangered species?
Please join us
and local community groups in speaking out. Our collective silence needs to
become a deafening roar of concern.
Kylie Goldthorpe BVSc
details for concerned vets:
Kylie Goldthorpe (Oakey Coal Action Alliance): firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicki Laws (Oakey Coal Action Alliance): email@example.com
Reg Pascoe (Oakey Coal Action Alliance): firstname.lastname@example.org
Lee McNicholl (Dulacca Action Group): email@example.com
Ted Finnie (Merriwa Healthy Environment Group): firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics.
2. Munro, Sharyn 2012. Rich Land, Wasteland, How coal is killing Australia.
3. ABC. Coal Seam Gas by the numbers.
4. 2011 Senate Standing Reference Committee on Rural affairs and Transport:
Inquiry Impact of CSG extraction on the MDB.
5. Santos I and Maher D, letter to Department of Climate Change and Energy
Efficiency. October 2012. 6. ABC. RN Background Briefing 9 December 2012.
7. Southern Cross University Media Release.
8. Wood R, Gilbert P, Sharmina M, Anderson K. Shale gas: a provisional
assessment of climate change and environmental impacts. Tyndall Centre for
Climate Change Research, University of Manchester. 2011.
9. Howarth RW, Santoro R and Ingraffea A. Methane and the greenhouse-gas
footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Climate Change 2011.
10. Tollefson J, 2012. Air sampling reveals high emission from gas field. News
in Focus, Vol.482, 139-140, 2012.
11. Department of Environment and Resource Management. CSG/LNG Compliance Plan
12. Bamberger M, and Oswald R. Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal
Health. New Solutions, Vol.22 (1) 51-77, 2012. 13. Doctors for the Environment
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