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Farmers versus mining on the Darling Downs

04 Apr, 2008 10:33 AM
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Arrow Energy wants to sink wells, plus construct twin underground pipelines - carrying salt water and coal seam gas - over a 12km stretch of prime broadacre country, prompting fears Queensland's mining boom increasingly riding roughshod over the interests of the rural economy.

The issue came to a head when affected property owner, Peter Williams, Mixhill Pastoral Company, 30km south west of Dalby, convened a meeting to alert neighbouring producers to the energy company's handling of the issue.

He says Arrow Energy first contacted him about 18 months ago, detailing plans to pipe by-product water (brine) and gas from its drilling programs south of his property to the company's storage facilities at Daandine, requiring a 4.34km tract across cultivations country.

Ever since, the Williams say they have struggled to get the mining company to address a swag of farm-related issues.

Peter Williams says the lack of environmental studies, the company's failure to "walk" their country and unsatisfactory compensation levels have forced the family to "go public" as a last resort.

"Originally, they said ‘we will always follow gazetted roads’ and will not interfere with your infrastructure," he says.

"But now they propose to go right through the property, effectively cutting it in two."

As well, he says Arrow Energy wants him to sign documents that lease back the affected area, allowing the company 24-hour-day access for maintenance work.

Then there's the issue of compensation.

Documents show that Arrow Energy will pay $10,850 (calculated as 20pc of the land value estimated of $5000a hectare) for the 10.85ha of disturbed area, plus "reasonable" legal fees capped at $2000.

"I will lose four cultivation paddocks and I'm estimating our net loss in not planting barley this coming winter will be $48,500," Mr Williams says.

"We are now at a standstill, waiting for Arrow Energy to come back to us - to work on the environmental issues, work on our salinity fears and work out compensation."

Events on the property are unfolding against the backdrop of one of the district's best seasons, following 10 years of drought-affected production.

"We want to plant everywhere because we want this big chance to pay off our debts," Mr Williams says.

Neighbouring farmers at the meeting also voiced concerns about Arrow Energy's storage ponds which are where the salty water from its extraction process will be held after being piped across affected properties.

The concern is whether these storages can withstand a 150mm dump of rain that fell overnight late last month. They reason any structural failure, either of the ponds or the associated pipe-work, could see salty water flow onto productive farmland.

It's an issue that local district producer, Bruce Derrick, also president of the newly-formed Environment and Property Protection Association, feels strongly about. He is calling for the Qld Government to investigate the likely impact the mining company's extraction and storage process will have on the surrounding water table, also for the environmental well-being of the upper Murray-Darling Basin.

"Over the next 10 years, full production from the area's gas fields, resulting in up to 60 gigalitres of saline water - containing 200,000 tonnes of residual salt - will be extracted," he says.

"Plus, we are concerned about the effects on the deep aquifers and have questions about farm damage and a range of other issues including security, (economic) viability, quality of life and property valuation.

"We have to be a strong group (about the issue)," Mr Derrick says.

Member for Darling Downs, Ray Hopper, says he wants the Qld Minister for Sustainability, Climate Change and Innovation, Andrew McNamara, to tour the district ("free of advisors and glossy literature") to better understand events unfolding on-the-ground.

"It's big business riding roughshod over our producers - it's simply unacceptable the way things are happening."

Meanwhile, unrest over Arrow Energy's proposed Stratheden Coal Seam Gas Project will see it address the facts with an open mind.

The company’s chief executive officer, Nick Davies, questioned the timing of the rally, noting it hosted a consultation meeting with landholders on March 19.

"The company also has a planned meeting with the recently formed Environment and Property Protection Association (EPPA) on April 22," he says.

"We have provided multiple opportunities to landholders to inform our planned Stratheden Coal Seam Gas Project and have attended several meetings with varying interest groups in-between hosting our own community consultation events," Mr Davies says.

"The feedback we have received has led to a number of changes which accommodate landholder concerns."

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READER COMMENTS

valerie Lack
4/08/2010 7:10:36 PM

My husband and I are not farmers but we are really concerned about this issue with mining on the Darling Downs. We did a trip up north several years ago and travelled out to a place called Chillago. On the way we passed many creeks which warned the public that the creeks were contaminated with arsenic. The arsenic is the result of mining in that area back in the early days of settlement. Every creek had a notice nearby with a skull and cross bones on. Okay for humans, they can read but what about the wildlife? I really think that we should have learnt from the past but we don't seem to. The film Avatar was a true representation of how stupid and grasping human beings are and how we foul the environment in the name of greed. Surely the politicians realise that once the ground water and the Great Artesian Basin have been poisoned then we are doomed. The Darling Downs is about the last place in Qld where farming still takes place. We have lost the Redland Bay area which was once the salad bowl for Brisbane, the developers made sure of that, so now houses stand where once our food was grown. We cannot let this happen again and certainly not on the Darling Downs.
Jay
16/08/2010 11:40:59 AM

You tell them get lost this is my land.

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COMMENTS

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Well said David. The industry should give WWF a wide berth, they cannot be trusted.
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bring on an Agricultural Bank controlled by government with realistic interest rates. Totally
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Corporate greed plain and simple