9 August 2011
COAL seam gas companies have told a Senate hearing they will use their legal rights to force their way on to land where farmers refuse access.
The admission is likely to anger thousands of farmers in the Surat and Bowen basins of Queensland who promised to lock their gates against gas and coal mining.
In a sometimes fiery hearing, the inquiry into CSG also discovered a “gold-rush mentality” in which the state and federal governments would earn $1 billion a year in taxes and royalties from just one of the three approved CSG export projects, while the companies were making up to $4 million a year from each well.
It was also told that none of the companies had yet found a way to deal with the millions of tonnes of waste salt produced each year other than to bury it, which one senator said was like vandalism.
“How can you approve the industry without knowing what’s happening to the salt?” Senator Bill Heffernan asked Federal Government bureaucrats.
“We are ticking off approvals and ignoring the base-line material. There’s no solution for the brine. Can you imagine any other industry going for approval and have a question mark over it?
“You don’t have to have much going wrong to cause a catastrophic change to the landscape.
“This industry is 3000 miles ahead of the regulators.”
Santos, the only company so far to reject the need to use the courts to force its way on to farms, said its LNG project would generate about $9 billion a year when in operation and it had paid out $17 million in compensation so far to about 180 landowners.
But it said it could not afford to “pay money on top of money”.
National Party Senator Bridget McKenzie said her calculations found that landowners would receive just 0.074 per cent in compensation, a figure Santos disputed as misleading.
“I think if someone was going to come on to my property to make $1000 and offered me 74 cents in return I would consider that grossly unfair,” Senator McKenzie said.
Queensland Gas managing director Catherine Tanna said the industry was the most heavily regulated of its type in the world.
“Based on our experience and plans we think it can be safely and reliably operated in the long term,” Ms Tanna said.
“The industry is good for Queensland and good for Australia.”
Ms Tanna said the royalties the company paid were the system of compensation for the Australian people.
The National Water Commission gave evidence that the CSG industry would extract up to 300 billion litres a year from the Great Artesian Basin.
“It’s a very significant figure,” the NWC acting chief executive James Cameron said.