As Australia sets its sights on becoming one of the world’s energy superpowers Four Corners investigates the coal seam gas industry and the cost to famers and the environment.
With access to guerrilla activists and their undercover filming, ABC TV reporter Matthew Carney speaks to a coalition of farmers, local townspeople and even a corporate titan who want to halt Australia’s gas rush - must watch TV on 4 Corners ABC1 TV Monday 21st February 830pm.
state government does not conduct any environmental assessment of exploration drilling for gas into coal seams despite increasing concern about its impact on aquifers and water supplies.
Documents tabled last week in Parliament show the government has little understanding of the possible environmental impact of coal seam gas exploration wells that are being drilled.
The Sun-Herald disclosed at the weekend that the government has approved plans by an exploration company to drill a well searching for gas in St Peters. Neither Marrickville Council nor City of Sydney council had been advised of the plans.
Imagine you are running a successful farming operation; then one day a man from the gas company arrives with news that a coal seam gas field lies beneath your feet. From there 3 wells are sunk, then another 18. And then a proposal for another 30, turning your property into a thriving gas field, while threatening the viability of the working farm.
Down the road, the neighbour sells after 48 wells are sunk into his property. The compensation of $250 a year, per well was not much inducement to stay. The wells themselves are estimated to be making the companies a million dollars a year, each.
And then the gas company says they might have to move your house to sink another well into the land.
This is the experience of just one of the farmers featured on Four Corners this week.
Right across Australia gas companies are drilling down through the earth to extract the resource that the industry says will be one of the answers to our future energy needs. Already some $31 billion worth of gas projects have been approved by the Federal Government, which are expected to generate thousands of jobs and billions in revenues.
But this precious resource lies beneath homes and farms, and the food bowls of Australia.
And this is where the gas companies are drilling; prompting a heated conflict over who should pay the price for our energy supplies.
Matthew Carney reports from communities in Queensland and NSW that are directly affected. Farmers tell of their feelings of violation and frustration; their belief that they are losing control of their properties and their ability to plan for the future. As one says “It’s really frustrating. We have taken on extra debt to fund our farming business and we are powerless to stop people accessing it and abusing it.”
But it’s not only what’s happening above ground that worries them.
One farmer claims his water supplies are dropping alarmingly as the coal seam drilling causes the water table to drop at an accelerated rate. This cattle farmer believes he may only have two years supply left in one of his key water bores.
Then there is the danger posed by faulty gas wells. The program shows local activists testing for leaks and finding highly explosive gasses leaking at alarming levels.
Others talk of their fears that Australia’s greatest underground water resource, the Great Artesian Basin will be contaminated and depleted. Four Corners details cases of water supplies being tainted by salty toxic water.
Many of those affected are beginning to work together on a national campaign to call a halt to the “Gas Rush”.
Four Corners special investigation into "The Coal Seam Gas Rush" presented by Kerry O’Brien goes to air on Monday 21 February at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on Tuesday 22 February at 11.35 pm. You can also see the program on ABCNews24 at 8.00pm each Saturday, on ABC iview or the web at the 4 Corners website
The Nine Network's 60 Minutes program has also investigated the great coal seam gas land grab in Queensland. Throughout Queensland, mining companies are marching onto private land, sinking wells without permission, and threatening the livelihood of landowners. This outstanding story by Australia's Sixty Minutes program is something that no Australian should miss.