By HARRY CLARKE
AFFECTED landholders say moves by the Queensland Government to enforce better regulatory compliance and greater transparency by international coal seam gas giants extracting gas from beneath the state’s prime agricultural land don’t go far enough.
The Department of Development, Local Government, Infrastructure and Planning (DLGIP) has confirmed it would broadly adopt recommendations set out in a review by the GasFields Commission Queensland (GFCQ) of the Regional Planning Interest Act.
Recommendations include requiring gas developers to fully declare the content of their consultations with landholders about the risks and impacts of gas drilling activities, and for government authorities to allow developers to lodge Regional Interests Development Approval applications for drilling sooner.
The review was prompted by ongoing complaints and concerns by landholders surrounding Arrow Energy’s $10 billion Surat Gas Project, which is underway west of Dalby and encompasses vast hectares of crucial Darling Downs cropping country.
Warwick Squire, head of the QGFC, said the DLGIP had considered the review’s seven recommendations, and that it “supports four of the recommendations and supports in principle the remaining three recommendations.”
“We are extremely pleased to see the government adopting our recommendations as this will most certainly aid in alleviating a number of landholder concerns regarding coexistence and the RPI (Regional Planning Interests) Act,” Mr Squire said.
The response by the government followed a call for immediate action by the GFCQ to resolve ongoing coexistence issues between Arrow and the landholders on whose property gas development has been taking place.
The Arrow project has drawn well publicised controversy since it was announced by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in April 2020.
Ms Palaszczuk claimed the project would support 800 jobs during construction and 200 ongoing jobs during the decades-long operational period.
But several landholders, as well as lobby group Lock the Gate Alliance, have since claimed Arrow Energy, owned by international petroleum conglomerates Shell and Petrochina, had been carrying out illegal, risky and non-compliant drilling.
The biggest concern for Dalby farmers is the risk of underground gas extraction causing subsidence (widespread depressions in topsoil) on fragile floodplains where they carry out “intensive” crop farming business.
Rangers Bridge neighbours Zena Ronnfeldt and Bev Newton have been among the most vocal opponents of Arrow’s drilling practices and say apathy by government compliance regulators and a lack of transparency by Arrow is putting their livelihoods at dire risk.
‘”This is a positive step by GFCQ but the government is being asked to take actions on compliance investigations into unlawful drilling activity right now,” Ms Ronnfeldt said.
“The government has sidestepped and deflected by sending everyone off on a tangent about a commitment to make changes years into the future. Our problem with Arrow is right now.”
Ms Ronnfeldt claims some of her crop paddocks are already being affected by subsidence, which damages crops, causes farming machinery to become bogged and adversely affects crucial overland water flows during rain events.
Ms Ronnfedlt and Bev Newton have been among farmers who have repeatedly called for a complete pause on coal seam gas development in the area until drilling compliance issues have been fully investigated and acted upon.
The Caller is awaiting a statement from the DLGIP.