Greens dig a hole for Tony Abbott on farmers' rights  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , ,

The Australian has an article on The Greens' canny exploiting of a new wedge issue for the Coalition, trying to get Tony Abbott to side with either farmers or mining companies over the impact of coal seam gas extraction on farmland - Greens dig a hole for Tony Abbott on farmers' rights. There was more today - Greens urge rethink of investment on coal seam gas; want scientific analysis of emissions and Greens question the science of gas for power generation .

THE Greens will move to give farmers veto powers over coal-seam gas operations on their land after seizing on comments from Tony Abbott, who last week backed the right of farmers to deny miners access to their properties.

After the Opposition Leader declined on Saturday to elaborate on remarks he made on Friday that farmers had "a right to say no", Greens leader Bob Brown said he would seek Mr Abbott's support for a private member's bill on the issue.

The bill, to be brought into the Senate in the next fortnight by Greens Queensland senator Larissa Waters, would require the written permission of landholders be obtained before companies could explore for, or extract, coal-seam gas.

As senior Coalition figures accused Senator Brown of trying to wedge the Coalition on the issue, which pits its rural constituency against the mining industry, Mr Abbott's spokesman said he "stands by his recent comments that the Coalition supports a vibrant coal-seam gas industry". ...

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson accused Mr Abbott of risking the $45 billion of investment in the Queensland industry through his comments on Friday and of dodging questions on the issue in Perth on Saturday.

He said Mr Abbott was a "rank opportunist" and an "economic vandal".

"Mr Abbott's comments jeopardise future investment, raise the spectre of sovereign risk and are contrary to Australia's policy of welcoming foreign investment -- a policy that has in no small way helped ensure the fundamental strength of our economy," Mr Ferguson said.

"Two of the major companies operating in the coal-seam gas industry -- Santos and Origin -- are Australian companies. Is Mr Abbott saying to other major companies in the energy sector, like British Gas or Chevron with their $43bn Gorgon project, that their investment is not welcome?"

The Greens move comes amid rising anger over coal-seam gas extraction in Queensland and NSW, where the rapid expansion of the industry has sparked protests amid concerns about the industry's impact on prime agricultural land and its effect on ground water reserves.

The Climate Spectator has a look at the issue of potential contamination of the Great Artesian Basin - A double-sided CSG dilemma.
Four years ago, fund manager John Abernethy wrote a prescient article for Business Spectator explaining how we were degrading our 'economic environment' just as much as the physical and biological environment.

Abernethy, executive director and chief investment officer of Clime Investment Management, knows plenty about money and his article, published in the throes of the initial 2007 sub-prime crisis, is worth re-reading as a reminder that we have been through the financial and economic equivalents of a Chernobyl, an Exxon Valdez and the American dustbowl of the early 1930s (Economic warming, November 2007).

Today we limp forward wondering whether the 'ecological system' of global finance and economics will collapse altogether.

Increasingly 'economics', the study of scarcity, and 'ecology', the study of the biological systems that fill our world, are different sides of the same coin.

Thus the Greens believe they are speaking great economic truths, but based on a much longer timeframe than conventional economists. If you'll bear with me for a moment, it's fair to say that in theory they are right – the fairly radical suite of policies they promote would, in theory, hand a better world to our great grandchildren than the one we inhabit. In theory. ...

The CSG majors have refined their extraction techniques in recent years to avoid the most hazardous chemicals – one, on condition of anonymity, explained to me yesterday that what is pumped down into the ground to release CSG is around 97 per cent water and sand, with the remaining 3 per cent being "essentially the kind of household chemicals you'd find in a normal home".

Sounds pretty benign, doesn't it. But the other view of that harmless mixture is this: imagine filling hundreds of water tankers with a 3 per cent chemical solution, then pouring the lot into an old quarry to create a wetland environment. It might do alright, but then again it might not.

Jim Cox, professor of hydrology at the University of Adelaide, explained to me yesterday the unique characteristics of the Great Artesian Basin that extends over much of the areas of Queensland and some of NSW where CSG extraction is occurring. (This report has a neat little map of where the water is.)

In many parts of the world, underground aquifers are quite discrete, so any pollution of one is likely to be contained. This is not necessarily true of the GAB – Cox explains that areas of heavy rainfall in the north create a long, percolating flow of water that makes its way south, taking perhaps 100 years to reach the southern regions.

And that is where the two sides of the ecology/economics coin come together. The flow of pollutants created by the 'fracking' process of extraction is either an unacceptable burden for future generations who may rely on this water to irrigate crops in an increasingly hungry world; or it is a cost that, with the right discount rate applied, is almost negligible alongside the immense benefit of the energy we extract from CSG.

Bob Brown yesterday questioned the science used by fans of CSG, who claim that as an energy source it releases 50 to 70 per cent less CO2 than coal.

The SMH has an article looking at the issue from a farmers viewpoint - Our food bowls should not be sacrificed to mining.
Australia is the driest continent on earth and as we push towards an ever increasing population we must be mindful of the fact the less than 9 per cent of our continent's surface is arable land: a far smaller portion of that is prime agricultural land, and an even smaller portion of that has underground water resources.

This limited area for producing food for the nation is under threat from coal seam gas mining and so far the pendulum has been firmly tilted towards the miners' interests. There is a way the two industries can co-exist, but it will require a moratorium on further mining exploration while a regional plan is formed.

I cannot overstate the importance to the country of our food producing areas. The Liverpool Plains in the north-west of NSW, where I am from, is an area of just 1.2 million hectares that produces about 37 per cent of the nation's cereal crops. After 185 years of working the land, locals now use some of the most advanced broad-acre farming practices in the world, while local irrigators led the state in water reform.

Many Australians have their wealth tied up in mining stocks and it is in their own interests to imagine that these companies will never affect the agricultural viability of our nation. A few well-run media campaigns have ensured that Australians hold this view. I too felt the same way until mining came into my life six years ago.

The truth is far different – pollution, damage and destruction are the norm, and water resources are being compromised and destroyed on an hourly basis. For far too long, this industry has been able to fix any problem by waving the cheque book.

The legislation in this area is totally inadequate to deal with the coal and gas rush in this nation. Farmers in the Liverpool Plains engaged in the process as set out by the Acts, but the process failed to protect our property and water rights and interrupted our ability to work our own land. We then went to NSW Supreme Court and won, only to have the NSW Labor government of the time retrospectively change the laws, with the full support of the opposition.

Yet while agricultural areas are under siege, Queensland will protect urban areas from mining. NSW and Victoria say they will not follow suit, but the issue of urban mining and the controversial extraction method of fracking is gaining prominence.

The issue of mining in agricultural areas, leading to questions of how the country will feed itself, sits alongside broader questions about how the nation will generate heat and light into the next millennium. ...

We still need a mining industry but, like other industries, it must be held accountable for the damage it inflicts. Until now, the nation has turned a blind eye – we love our wealth and we love our prosperity, and Australians have been unaware what they've been sacrificing to meet these ends.

Good fences make good neighbors, but at present the mining industry is not prepared to be fenced out of anywhere. They say they do no harm, but all around we see evidence to the contrary. Throughout the Hunter Valley wells are dry and rivers no longer run clean, while aquifers in central Queensland are predicted to drop more than 50 metres following coal seam gas extraction.

The only way agriculture and mining will be able to co-exist is if extractive industries are kept away from productive agricultural land and the precious water resources on which it relies. A regional plan is needed that sets out areas for certain land use, including agriculture, wine production, thoroughbred breeding and mining. Boundaries drawn in black are the only way to achieve a diverse regional Australia where the various industries can co-exist in peace.

Forcing the mining industry to be accountable could also serve to promote renewable energy policies and investment. We cannot eat money or coal, yet we still need light, warmth and industrial activity. Technologies to harvest energy from the sun, the wind and the ocean are advancing fast – if we cast our minds to it, who knows what wonders are ahead? The time to take action to preserve our future is now or there will be no turning back.

There is plenty more commentary on the subject with Robert Gottliebsen at The Business Spectator weighing in with Beware the CSG enfants terribles and Who'll take the CSG blame? and the ABC's "World Today" with Coal seam gas good for environment: Santos.

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