Photo sourced ABC Four CornersThe account of a witness is very important and I am not downplaying Simone Marsh’s testimony on the Gas Leak’s story when I say that for those who watch the coal seam gas industry closely there was nothing new shown in the story. What Four Corners did was not so much as providing new information this time with the Four Corners brand of investigative journalism but presenting the information to a new audience.
Central to the Gas Leaks story was events in May 2010 when public servants were placed under pressure to approve not just one but two highly complex coal seam gas projects in a very short period of time. Simone Marsh told of how she was pressured into signing off on the projects despite the absence of key information for the crucial ground water studies. This information was revealed back in February by The Courier Mail in the article, Public servants tasked with approving massive CSG projects were blindsided by demands to approve two in two weeks.
Documents obtained through a Courier-Mail investigation reveal that as the $18 billion Santos GLNG project was nearing its approval in May 2010, public servants were hit with the demands from the government to also tackle the $16 billion QGC project - and then the Origin-led APLNG proposal, approved in November of the same year.
And just days before the QGC approval was granted, public servants were warning the directors of the government's assessment team that they still had not been given any detailed information on pipelines and the location of wells.
They also warned a long list of environmental issues had not been fully analysed.
The documents obtained by the Courier Mail revealed not only objections by Simone Marsh but also by fellow public servants, Stuart Cameron and Murray Vincent. In an earlier article published December 2011, State knew about CSG problems, in a report way back in 2006 senior government bureaucrat Geoff Edwards warned the government that coal seam gas will have massive impacts.
Mr Edwards said water associated with coal seam gas did contain toxic materials like fluoride, strontium and hydrocarbons.
"Some of the lower seams are contaminated with difficult substances," he said
He calculated about 1.5 million tonnes of salt could be extracted over the life of the projects.
The Mines Minister at the time, Stirling Hinchliffe, downplayed the findings of the report but information I have received recently indicates it was right on the money. This will be a subject for a future post.
There was no one directly representing either SANTOS or QGC on the Four Corners Gas Leak’s story; however Four Corners did submit questions to the companies and both have made their answers available online. To read the responses click on – SANTOS - QGC
Left to sweat it out under Four Corners intense questioning was Rick Wilkinson the CEO of the industry association, Australian Petroleum Producers and Explorers Association. (APPEA)
Photo SANTOS CEO David Knox sourced ABC Inside Business
Not that SANTOS has been immune from broadcasting falsehoods as evident from the TV ads that it ran in Oct/ Nov last year when "landholder and farming consultant", Warwick Moppett, posing as the owner of NSW prime agricultural land, standing in fields of canola and cotton reciting the benefits of the CSG industry when he in fact lives far away and was on the land without permission. Locals viewing the ad picked up on these anomalies, voiced their outrage on social media and the story was first picked up by New Matilda before receiving widespread media coverage
Of special note amongst Mr. Knox’s media appearances endeavoring to right “misleading views about SANTOS” was an interviewed on the Radio National breakfast program, Wednesday 3rd April, where Fran Kelly gave enough rope that Mr. Knox made some significant misleading statements of his own.
First there was a very careful attempt to marginalise the evidence that Simone Marsh gave to the Four Corners Gas leak’s story in which Ms Marsh spoke of her concerns at the time that no underground water studies were included in the material she had to assess in the approval process of the SANTOS project.
Mr Knox spoke of a lengthy approval process where extensive water studies were included and that the consultancy firm Golder Associates had prepared an underground water report.
It was indeed a lengthy process and the Golder report was submitted to the Coordinator Generals Department while Ms Marsh worked in the Dept Infrastructure & Planning; a point by its omission allows the audience the possibility to reach a misleading conclusion.
The Qld Water Commission report was used by Mr Knox to prop up his case. Mr Knox states the belief the QWC report is a “superb piece of work, a very detailed model that supports the original studies we did.” He also states that the “definitive model by QWC shows impacts will be minimal” and then follows with this extraordinary quote that I’m sure will come back to haunt SANTOS in years to come that “in our area only 3 landowner bores will go dry.”
The effect on underground water is of very high concern for the farming and grazing community; many have read the report and are studying whatever other scientific material that becomes available. To such an audience they could well ask the question, has David Knox read a different QWC report? In talking about 'our area' which seems to completely ignore the fact the QWC report was also about cumulative impacts, meaning that all projects are at least partly responsible for impacts across the entire Surat Basin. The QWC report cannot be called definitive; if Mr Knox understood the process the report is but a beginning on a pathway to try to understand a very complex system that is essential to the future of food production for a time well past the CSG industry has burnt itself out. The work is being continued by the renamed Office of Underground Water Assessment which will undertake further collection of data and production of reports on a cyclical basis.
The QWC report does show that there WILL be significant impacts on landowners bores. It is simplistic, incorrect and patronising to make statements such as “QWC report shows that the shallow aquifers where farmers get their water from won’t be affect.” It is almost juvenile to say that “SANTOS drills straws into the gas seam and draw gas out through the straws. They are not connected to the shallow bores that farmers have.”
What is the level of understanding about coal seam gas in the general population to give SANTOS CEO David Knox the confidence that he could get away making such misleading statements and also that are scientifically flawed? If Mr Knox believes what he was saying is correct, then we really are in trouble.
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