FEARING the approval of Santos' Narrabri Gas Project in New South Wales, a group of farmers and community members have conducted a tour of southwest Queensland for a first-hand view of the communities affected by coal seam gas, as well as some of the gas infrastructure on the Darling Downs.
The four-day tour was organised by the Wando Conservation and Cultural Centre, Narrabri, and included meetings with locals in Chinchilla, Miles, Reedy Creek and Roma.
A group of 14 people from New South Wales, South Australia, and one from Queensland, jumped on a bus and visited each area.
"Risk to the Great Artesian Basin is top of a long list of concerns for the visitors, with biosecurity and toxic waste disposal close behind,” said tour organiser Anna Christie.
"Concerns about the Great Artesian Basin include water pollution as well as the use of water. The coal seam gas industry now uses more water than agriculture.
"There is a lack of research and a lack of solution to dealing with the toxic waste that comes from these plants.”
Ms Christie said there was water spread over the road at a number of fracking sites.
"Near the Santos Fairview coal seam gasfields we witnessed a tanker spreading an obnoxious smelling liquid onto the bitumen road,” she said.
"It was clear that it wasn't for dust suppression because there was no need for it, and from the odour we can only conclude it is a form of concealed waste dumping.”
Biosecurity concerns are another complicated issue concerning farmers with coal seam gas plants.
"The concerns with biosecurity are to do with a system called the Livestock Production Assurance National Vendor Declaration set up by Australian Meat and Livestock Association,” Ms Christie said.
"There is a big problem with this declaration, they're asked to sign on behalf of the safety of their product when they have no ability to know what chemicals are being created by a nearby gas plant.
"So if you have got fracking and gas extraction happening on your property where you're running cattle, or near your property, we know from independent research that there is a very heavy load of very strong chemicals.
"There are chemicals in the area, in the water and in the soil. When the cattle are being raised in that kind of environment, they're obviously being exposed to them. So how on earth can someone sign a National Vendor Declaration to say that the meat is free of contaminants when the industry won't actually tell you?
"This is a really big gap in the regulation for meat exports and we ask the question: will the gas industry take responsibility?”
Debbie Nulty is a livestock producer in Kingston in southeast South Australia.
She runs 350 head of cattle and 5000-6000 sheep on her 2800ha property.
Ms Nulty participated in the tour of CSG plants in Queensland as she is concerned about the biosecurity risks of gas developments in her own region.
"It's not coal seam gas in Kingston but I believe it will have the same risks and affects, so I wanted to go and have a look to see what the wells look like and that kind of thing, so that's what got me on the bus trip,” she said.
"The biggest worry for me is the gas industry. They're starting out with conventional which they get out of the sandstone.
"In the southeast we don't want any gas at all, because it's potentially going to affect livestock farmers' access to the export market, it's going to affect our clean and green image, which will affect out competitive edge in the export markets.
"We have to sign the National Vendor Declaration before we can move any livestock off our property to gain access to the domestic and export markets.
"So if there's a contamination incident, we will be non-compliant with Australian on-farm food safety certification program and we can't access the National Vendor Declaration.
"So basically we will be shut down.”
Peter Wills is a farmer from Quirindi in New South Wales. He runs a beef grazing operation in Werris Creek and a share cropping operation in Quirindi.
Mr Wills attended the tour across coal-seam-gas- affected areas of Queensland, which he said confirmed his concerns about toxic pollution from the CSG industry.
"It was good to speak to farmers who had taken gas wells onto their land and also speak to farmers who hadn't and had refused access,” he said.
"To hear how farms have been devalued whether you have the wells or not, and that risk to water is still live and present for farmers, we have concluded that agriculture and coal seam gas cannot safely coexist.
"Farming is clearly in decline in CSG areas.”
Mr Wills shared his concerns about how these developments would affect the Great Artesian Basin.
"The Pilliga is a recharge zone for the Great Artesian Basin and if you're going to drill holes and pinprick it with 850 gas wells across the forest, going quite deep into the basin, the integrity will be compromised and put at risk,” he said.
"There have already been spills in the Pilliga where there are now dead zones and nothing will grow.”
He was concerned about both the use and the pollution of the water.
"They're de-watering these aquifers to then inject chemicals to extract the gas,” Mr Wills said.
"And there's all this salt that will be coming out of the gas wells that they have no plan for disposal yet for the northwest.
"Salt kills, and the amount of salt that's meant to come out of these aquifers that are being de-watered is phenomenal, and if that contaminant reaching the surface - which in its context in the ground is secure and safe - when it comes to the surface it's an opportunity for risk and pollution and devastation.
"They've already destroyed areas of the Pilliga.”
Mr Wills said his property could be used for coal seam gas extraction.
"If we don't stop the wells in the Pilliga, they're coming after my farmland next,” he said.
"There are all these unextinguished gas exploration licences.
"When the environmental impact statement for the Pilliga was released to the public for submission, 23,000 people replied and 98.5 per cent objected to it across New South Wales.
"There are a lot of people who don't want this to happen.”