Monday, 4 February 2013

No longer such a gas - Part 2

This comprehensive report has been written by Sandi Keane available in its full length at independentaustralia and presented at this site in an abridged three parts.
 Darling Downs sunflowers
Interviews with Santos, Arrow, QGC (owned by BG Group) and Origin (50:50 joint venture with ConocoPhillips), reveal that, so far, none have a single example of a large-scale cropping operation co-existing with CSG mining.
Last November, Santos’ quest to win the hearts and minds of New South Wales cropfarmers backfired when one of its TV ads depicting CSG co-existing with large-scale cropping was exposed by this author as a sham.
The ad, which was pulled the next day, was designed to garner social licence for Santos’ proposed Spring Ridge coal seam gas (CSG) operation in the Gunnedah Basin on the Liverpool Plains.
A blockade by local farmers ended shortly after when Santos agreed to suspend drilling activities pending completion of the Namoi Catchment Water Study.
Rosemary Nankivell, Liverpool Plains crop farmer and spokesperson for The Caroona Coal Action Group, explained about the cutting-edge skills required to plough the special vertisol soil of the floodplains:
“Our farmers use groundbreaking technology such as navigational satellites. If you start putting roads and pipes in, it will upset the surface flows along the plains and everything will get washed away.”
Santos’ Matthew Doman believes multi-well pads might be the way to go and drilling wells on the corners or boundaries of properties. But farmers remain skeptical, especially about aquifer depletion and subsidence from fracking.
Whilst Santos’ operation in New South Wales is still largely exploratory, Arrow Energy’s Surat Gas Project is dependent on Cecil Plains, its most concentrated reserve, as feedstock for its LNG contracts.
Cropping at Cecil Plains
The Queensland government’s Strategic Cropping Land (SCL) policy relies on “reasonable efforts to avoid and minimise any impacts on SCL”. Reaching an agreement on what is “reasonable” has resulted in a stalemate for Arrow.
At the end of August, sixty Cecil Plains farmers met with Arrow, rejected its ‘co-existence’ commitment, burnt the document and threatened blockades if Arrow tried sending in drilling rigs.
Cecil Plains crop farmer and Save Our Darling Downs spokesperson, Ruth Armstrong, says the “co-existence” model is flawed.
“One party benefits to the detriment of the other. If they can’t get Cecil Plains, it makes their Surat project unviable,” she said.
Graham Clapham is a third generation farmer, running a 4,700 hectare intensive, irrigated cropping operation on the Cecil Plains.
“We have no obligation to Arrow which is now foreign-owned by Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina, but we do have an obligation to protect Australia’s long term food and water interests,” he told Independent Australia.The Cecil Plains farmers are experts at managing the plains’ famous self-cracking black alluvial soil. Water from the Condamine Alluvium and Great Artesian Basin is applied with expert care to protect their intensive cropping operations.
Like the Liverpool Plains, its farmers are formidable guardians of the soil and water they regard as gold.
Like Santos, Arrow is confident that agricultural and coal seam gas industries can co-exist thanks to input from its two community committees.
“Arrow is technically demonstrating this through new pitless drilling, multi-well pads and flexible well locations,” said an Arrow spokesperson.
As in New South Wales, local farmers remain convinced. Although problematic fracking is not required with gas seams near the surface, they fear the fresh ground water, also close to the surface, will be depleted.
Arrow has 500 landholder agreements in place but Carmel Flint, of Lock the Gate Alliance points out that they still need 1,500.
“Cecil Plains has up to 40 per cent of its gas resources. We predict Arrow’s plans for an LNG export plant are never going to be realized. They should walk away from this risky venture now before they lose even more money on it,” she said.

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