A massive flood up to 60 to 80 kilometres wide is currently making it’s way down the Channel Country rivers of western Queensland, and is eventually likely to head all the way to the salty and normally empty Lake Eyre.
It’s one of the defining events of the ‘boom and bust’ cycle of inland Australia, and according to a new report, unconventional gas development threatens the future of that great wild desert river system.
The report by the Western Rivers Alliance—a network of graziers, scientists and environmental groups—has found that up to 24,000 wells planned for an expanding unconventional gas industry in the region would place extremely high demand on the underground waters of the Great Artesian Basin, and pose significant risk to the flood patterns that are a feature of the region.
RN Breakfast asked the office of Dr. Anthony Lynham, the Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, a series of questions about unconventional gas development in the Channel Country:
– Is the Minister concerned about the potential impacts of unconventional gas development in the Channel Country and the Great Artesian Basin?
– What safeguards have been put in place to protect flows on the floodplains?
– The Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk promised to reintroduce protection for the Channel Country after the Wild Rivers legislation was scrapped by the previous Newman Government—what has happened to that promise?
– Last year, Minister Anthony Lynham granted 11,000 square kilometres of new exploration licences in the Cooper and Eromanga basins beneath the Channel Country—will further areas be opened up for exploration?
A spokesperson for Minister for State Development, Natural Resources and Mines, Dr Anthony Lynham, said:
Unconventional gas development in the Channel Country area is still in an exploration and appraisal stage and production is considered to be some years away.
The Queensland Government supports strong agricultural and resource sectors balanced by sound environmental management.
The Department of Natural Resources and Mines ensures through its permit process that the impacts of gas exploration and production on the environment are minimised.
To achieve an appropriate balance between these industries that allows benefits to flow to the community, Queensland has established a comprehensive regulatory framework. This framework aims to minimise the impacts of unconventional gas development on primary producers and protect environmental values.
The Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 (WROLA Act) makes changes to the regulation of petroleum and gas sector to limit their existing underground water rights to ‘associated water’ (water taken incidentally in extracting the resource).
Following the commencement of the WROLA Act provisions later this year, unconventional gas proponents will be required to apply for and be granted a water licence or permit for access to underground water for consumptive uses such as for road suppression.
The new regulatory framework will ensure the sustainable management of the Great Artesian Basin amid any potential expansion of the unconventional gas industry in the Cooper Basin.
There are a number of prospective areas for gas across the state and DNRM actively manages releases of land for exploration.
A tender process for exploration in the Cooper and Eromanga Basins commenced in 2015 however no offers have been made to tenderers at this stage and as such no exploration licences have been granted.
The Queensland Government’s annual exploration program provides a forward schedule of competitive tenders and identifies priority areas for the responsible development of Queensland’s minerals, petroleum and gas, and coal resources.
Details on the planned land releases for 2016-17 can be seen here.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection said:
The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection is undertaking policy assessment work to consider the best policy or legislative levers to ensure the long term protection of Western Queensland rivers and floodplains.
The 2016-17 Budget provided EHP with $1.5 million over 2 years to support research, policy assessment and community and business consultation on these and a number of related issues in the Channel country and other regions across Queensland.
In the interim, there are robust environmental assessment measures in place to ensure that development can only occur where it will not damage the region’s high environmental values.
This is not only the position of the Queensland Government, but also the other states and the Australian Government, with whom Queensland works to preserve the entire Lake Eyre Basin.