Academics warn of looming seam-gas 'mess'

19 September 2011

A LEADING resource economist has called for restrictions on the booming coal-seam gas industry until proper water quality and technology monitoring systems can be implemented.

Alan Randall, professor of agricultural resource economics at the University of Sydney, said the long-term risks of damaging the nation's precious water and food supplies are likely to outweigh the short-term benefit of allowing the industry to expand unchecked.

Professor Randall singled out Queensland for particular criticism, saying the state government had failed in its duty of oversight.

"They've got forms for this and applications for that, but they don't have a proper monitoring effort and they don't have any processes for dealing with big problems should they arise," Professor Randall said.

He said the problems were rooted in the approval process.

"By approving projects on a one-by-one basis, you could end up in a real mess if there's not someone doing the arithmetic to see what the aggregate effects are," he said. However, he said even high-level monitoring might not give a complete picture since CSG extraction was still an evolving technology and its effects were not fully understood.

Gavin Mudd, a hydrogeologist based at Monash University, echoed those concerns and said there was a "huge problem" when it came to transparency regarding coal-seam gas extraction.

Dr Mudd said the Queensland government required CSG operators to provide statements forecasting the impact their activities would have on ground water supplies, and had been doing so for at least a decade.

However, the government had not studied that data to establish how accurate those industry predictions of 5-10 years ago actually were. Dr Mudd said one of his students had recently conducted such a study of a CSG well, and found while one nearby water bore was unaffected by the operations another 5km away suffered a "very major impact".

"If a an undergraduate student can do that in three weeks of full-time work why the hell hasn't the government done that?" he said.

"Why hasn't there been a systematic study to see what was predicted five years ago and what has actually happened?"

Queensland Mining Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said such studies would be part of a review into the cumulative impacts of CSG extraction on the Great Artesian Basin.

Contact: Katynna Gill

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