Another government report identifies risks of unconventional gas fracking for Channel Country floodplains

The Australian Government’s new report on the potential expansion of the unconventional shale and tight gas fracking industry into Queensland’s Channel Country identifies risks to the region’s groundwater aquifers, important wetlands, wildlife, and the region’s cattle grazing industry.

The Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program, released last week by CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology, Federal Department of Environment and Energy, and Geoscience Australia, identifies over 200 individual hazards of unconventional shale and tight gas fields for the region, including that toxic chemicals could contaminate ground and surface water.

The federal document comes after it was revealed that the Queensland Government withheld the release of a report including recommendations from expert scientists that unconventional gas fracking be excluded from the Channel Country floodplains.

“The rivers and floodplains of the Channel Country are too precious to frack,” said Western Rivers Alliance spokesperson Riley Rocco.

“Mining for unconventional gas would risk disrupting some of the last free-flowing desert rivers on the planet, and that would have terrible outcomes for wildlife and local industries like organic beef.” “Regulatory protections for the Channel Country need to be strengthened and that unconventional gas fracking should be excluded from the river and floodplain areas.” The report notes that, in addition to over 200 hazards identified, the Cooper Basin 'user group’ - a committee of stakeholders including local land holders, traditional owners, local governments, and gas companies - identified further possible risks around infrastructure diverting flood flows away from the floodplains wetlands, and permanent waterholes.

The Queensland Government committed at the last two elections to improve protections for Channel Country rivers and floodplains but new regulations for better protection have not passed Parliament.

The Western Rivers Alliance is calling for better protections for Channel Country rivers and floodplains, including a ban on unconventional gas mining.


Background

The study identified that 64% of the 116 chemicals used in shale and tight gas operations in Australia between 2011-2016 were ‘of potential concern’ to aquatic health with 33 of these chemicals rated as ‘very toxic’.

For the Cooper Basin region, the report noted that soil, ground and surface water contamination of these chemicals was possible through a range of potential hazards including well failures and leaks or spills of waste water during storage or transportation.

The Cooper geological basin has been earmarked by the Australian Government as one of three onshore geological basins with greatest potential for unconventional shale and tight gas extraction.

The region covers the area of the Cooper Creek catchment from approximately 100 kms north of Windorah down to Lake Blanch in South Australia.

Cooper Creek is one of the three major river systems that flow into Lake Eyre comprising approximately one third of the Lake Eyre Basin.

The fertile Cooper floodplains are highly valued by the community- supporting a lucrative organic beef industry and attracting unique wildlife loved by both locals and tourists.

Unregulated river flows in flood times support permanent water holes that are significant sites for the region’s traditional owners and include several wetlands listed as being of national importance including Coongie lakes RAMSAR wetlands listed as of international importance.

The report notes that the region is also home to 10 threatened species including the night parrot and the critically endangered plains-wanderer.

The report notes that while conventional oil and gas fields have been operational in the area for over 50 years, unconventional gas is relatively new and would require a considerably higher rate of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and a greater intensity above ground infrastructure.

The report assumes 1000 new wells could be drilled over the next 50 years.

The study estimates that during the construction phase each of these wells would require approximately 3000 truck movements- placing pressure on local roads.

Each well pad would require an access road with a further hazard identified being possible fragmentation of floodplains and wildlife habitat.

Media Contact: Gina Baker for Western Rivers Alliance  gina@outbackqueensland.org.au