This is the Casino prequel to Brad Hazzard’s more recent Lismore visit.
On Thursday April 19, Brad Hazzard, the NSW Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, came to Casino for what was billed as a “forum”. I think, by now, most of our communities have realised that such events, along with their cousins, “community consultations”, are almost never actual avenues for anyone to listen to the community. These events are simply convenient sales platforms for politicians or company representatives to market their point of view, while at the same time ticking a regulatory box about “consultation”. Do I sound jaded?
Hundreds of us turned up to the forum anyway. We had to. It appears that the politicians charged with making important decisions about the future of our land, water, lives, and health are unaware, actually unaware, of basic facts about unconventional gas mining.
My first hint was when the committee of the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into Coal Seal Gas visited Kyogle on their way to Alstonville. I found myself talking with the Hon. Dr Peter Primrose, one of the committee. The committee had just been to visit one of Metgasco’s local sites, but in the course of the conversation it transpired that Primrose wasn’t familiar with the name Metgasco. They’d also recently flown in a plane over the gasfields in Qld, but Primrose couldn’t remember where in Qld he’d flown over. Was he not paying attention?
These were small details to forget, but as it turns out, they are representative of a broader phenomenon. On the same day, Robert Brown, the head of the inquiry, told me he believed that the mining companies knew how to purify the salt from the produced water and sell it, possibly as food grade. Now, there exists no technology that has the ability to purify salt from produced water to food grade standard. None. If you’re from a mining company, and you can enlighten me, please do and I’ll retract what I just said. And even if you could purify it to industrial standards, which industry would buy this estimated 30 million tonnes of salt? Really.
More recently, I phoned the offices of the members of the NSW Upper House to express my concerns about CSG mining. In early March, I phoned the Hon. Rick Colless, the Deputy Government Whip in the Legislative Council and member of the above CSG Inquiry committee. The report of the committee is due very soon (May 3) so I’d have hoped that the committee members would be pretty much on top of the issue by now. However, when I spoke to him, he told me “there’s a lot of misinformation about”, implying that people opposed to CSG mining were simply uninformed. When I asked him to give me an example, he said “Did you know that Gasland is not coal seam gas?”
Now, I’m very grateful that Mr Colless actually picked up his phone. Every other member I called either had a staffer answer, or an answering machine (with no reply to my messages). So thank you to Rick, who at least listened, and tried to explain his point of view. However, there are two things wrong with a member of the NSW Legislative Council Committee of Inquiry into Coal Seam Gas asking me if I knew Gasland wasn’t CSG. First, it shows that he thinks that people opposed to CSG mining are unaware of basic facts about CSG mining (such as the distinctions and similarities between coal seam gas, tight sand and shale gas mining). Does he really think, really and truly, that people opposed to CSG have decided to give up days, weeks, months of their time to lobby against CSG without first doing some basic, and even in-depth, research into its consequences and potential benefits? If politicians hold such a low opinion of voters, no wonder they’re not paying any attention to our views.
So actually, yes, I did know that most unconventional gas mining in the US is for shale gas, and Gasland is a US movie. But I also know another very basic fact about CSG mining of which Mr Colless was obviously unaware. The different types of unconventional gas mining (and I had to explain to him that unconventional gas is the umbrella term used to describe difficult-to-extract-gas, such as CSG, shale gas and tight sand gas because he didn’t know ) have similar environmental and health consequences. More specifically, the exposure pathways to toxins are virtually identical. So just because Gasland describes the problems of shale gas extraction, doesn’t mean that those problems don’t have relevance to CSG mining in Australia.
Here’s an example. Produced water from all types of unconventional gas (even in the absence of fracking) can contain large amounts of salts as well as more serious toxins from drilling chemicals and from the coal seam or shale/sand deposit itself. In fact, coal seam gas mining results in far greater volumes of produced water from the coal seam than does shale gas mining. So in terms of toxic produced water, CSG is worse than Gasland.
Another example of identical exposure pathways is the air pollution associated with gaseous contaminants in the extracted methane. It’s impossible to tell in advance what contaminants will be in the methane from any particular well, and thus, what contaminants will escape to surrounding areas. The northern rivers may have squeaky clean methane, but it’s unlikely. A report by Global Community Monitor (GCM), found an array of neurotoxins, carcinogens and respiratory irritants, some of which were at levels thousands of times the recommended maximum, in the air surrounding schools, playgrounds and homes in the vicinity of gas developments – including CSG. In early March, less than 2 months before the due date for the Inquiry report, Rick Colless was unaware of the GCM document. On April 19, at the Casino forum, our pro-gas Thomas George was unaware of it. How can any politician claim to be qualified to make serious decisions about CSG mining in Australia without having read this report? (If Global Community Monitor is insufficiently reputable or independent for our politicians, here’s a peer-reviewed article from the Colorado School of Public Health, published in a scientific journal. It says very similar things.)
But it’s not only Peter, Robert, Rick and Thomas who don’t seem to know the facts. At the forum, in response to a question from the audience, Brad Hazzard blithely claimed that no farmer in NSW had been adversely affected by CSG mining. This is of course untrue, and several examples were forthcoming from the audience. He didn’t know even what was happening in NSW. He also wilfully ignored the demonstrated adverse effects in other jurisdictions (which are more than likely to be replicated in NSW) by turning the question around to avoid addressing the experiences of farmers in Queensland and overseas.
Mr Hazzard, if we’ve done more research than you, and we know more about the actual consequences of CSG mining than you, who are you to tell us that “NSW has these resources [including CSG]…and if you think we’re going to leave them in the ground, then I’m sorry, it’s not going to happen.” You’re not qualified to make that decision.
I would suggest that no-one who hasn’t read the following documents is qualified to make that decision.
- Fractured Communities. This report, from New York Riverkeeper, gives example after example of mining companies in the US ignoring environmental regulations, dumping toxic materials into waterways, livestock deaths, explosions, health problems and so on. If NSW is to avoid situations like these, it is essential that our politicians be aware of potential problems like these in advance. Otherwise, why should the behaviour of mining companies in Australia be any different from that in the US? Kyogle GAG included a summary of this report in its submission to the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into CSG, and included the full document details in the reference section. It’s easily available online.
- Human health risk assessment of air emissions from development of unconventional natural gas resources. McKenzie LM, Witter RZ, Newman LS, Adgate JL. (2012) Sci Total Environ. 424:79-87. Epub 2012 Mar 22. This is a peer-reviewed document that echoes the Global Community Monitor report “Gassed!“.
- Mining the Truth. This document was released at the end of last year, and details the differences between what the mining industry tells you (yes, that includes politicians) and the actual facts. It’s published by the Australia Institute.
- Hydraulic Fracturing in Coal Seam Gas Mining. From the National Toxics Network. Often, pro-gas people claim that CSG wells require far less stimulation than shale gas wells, so for NSW (where the vast majority of unconventional gas is CSG) reports about fracking are “irrelevant”. However, while CSG wells may require less fracking in their early stages, the likelihood of fracking increases greatly as the well gets older. It would be negligent to make decisions about CSG mining without being apprised of the associated environmental and health consequences. Additionally, this report includes a discussion of drilling chemicals, which are used for every well.
- “Zero Carbon Australia ” by Beyond Zero Emissions. This is a detailed, costed blueprint for the transition to a decarbonised Australian economy by 2020. It casts considerable doubt on Brad Hazzard’s casual assertion that we need CSG as a transition fuel. When he said it last Thursday, I imagine he meant to imply that opposition to CSG mining was unrealistic pie-in-the-sky. However, as a friend of mine says, “it simply showed that he is ignorant.” Please have a look at this report, Brad.
Now, community members, for free, on top of their usual jobs, have pored over brick-thick mining documents as well as these independent reports. So I don’t think it’s too much to ask our elected representatives, who are charged with the responsibility for making important decisions about our future (and moreover are paid for their efforts) to at least read the summaries. It’s not good enough to dismiss these reports simply because they may refer to a different kind of unconventional gas mining, or because they are about the situation in another state or country. They ARE relevant because the different types of unconventional gas mining have similar environmental, health and social consequences, and because what has happened in other jurisdictions is the most reliable guide we have to what is likely to happen in NSW.
So Mr Hazzard, and all the politicians who hold the honour of deciding our future. Remember that you are dealing with the future of real life people, to whom this issue is one of life and death. Our health, land and livelihoods are at stake. Because this is so important to us, we have spent enormous amounts of time and effort delving beneath industry spin and researching the real facts about the effects of CSG mining. We have given you the privilege of representing us, and we cannot accept your dismissal of our opposition to CSG because you think we have simply watched Gasland and become hysterical.
It appears to us that you have simply taken industry spin at face value, and ignored the real facts. It is very important that you base your decision on real facts, not simply what the mining industry tells you. Please read at least these independent reports as soon as you can. There are more, and if you finish with these, please contact me and I’ll give you a list of references. So-called “independent” reports commissioned by mining companies don’t count. Neither do reports written by consultants who also have separate contracts with mining companies. I can write you summaries, hand deliver you documents, whatever. I will drive into town to the library computers, take time out of planting vegies, neglect the fruit trees. Let me know and I will do whatever makes it easier for you to just READ THOSE REPORTS.
Because my life depends on it.