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Issue #1834      August 8, 2018


Miners’ free-for-all

“Drought relief: The dos and don’ts of helping Australian farmers”, “Farmers on crippling drought offered federal cash relief”, “Drought stricken farmers to receive $12k cash gift”: just a few of the headlines reflecting the dire straits of Australian farmers and the climate-change-denying federal government adding to the growing catastrophe that is climate change.

To top it off there are the voracious mining companies in pursuit of fossil fuels that lie beneath the ground of farmlands, a pursuit that threatens food sustainability and the viability of farming around the country.

Farmer and community activist group Lock the Gate Alliance says transnational miner Santos is exploiting a loophole to obtain gas from the Pilliga Forest, near Narrabri in north-west NSW, and burn it in its nearby gas-fired power station without having to pay royalties to the NSW government. Santos does not currently hold a CSG production permit and has instead using gas drilling in exploration and assessment areas to produce gas and pipe it to the nearby Wilga Park power station which it owns.

Santos obtained approval last week to expand the number of exploratory gas wells that feed the power station, thus increasing its access to royalty-free gas. Georgina Woods from Lock the Gate Alliance said the NSW government is basically giving Santos free gas worth millions of dollars as it pursues gas production by stealth in the Pilliga Forest.

Santos also claim its expansion in CSG wells would be environmentally beneficial, because methane gas would be burnt in its power station rather than being flared at the gas wells but Lock the Gate said the company has not provided an environmental assessment that justifies this claim.

Farmers and city-dwellers opposed to mining of coal seam gas are bringing major challenges to CSG mining companies and their destructive pursuit of mining profits.

The communities are concerned that drilling will affect surface water and aquifers. A local resident commented: “... drilling is bringing saline water to the surface only hundreds of metres from our flood plains and our aquifer structures”.

The farmers’ campaigns to safeguard water and food production deserve the highest praise. Averaged over 100 years, the effect of methane as a greenhouse gas is at least 23 times as damaging as carbon dioxide. However, its impact is much greater within the first 15 years after emission – and emissions must decrease over the next 15 years if we’re to avoid catastrophic climate change tipping points.

The NSW Coalition government’s approval to expand coal mining in the greater Sydney catchment area, without even waiting for the independent panel report – Sydney’s Drinking Water Catchment report – adds to the blatant disregard of informed and expert advice about the severe impacts of longwall mining.

An indication of the sway and influence mining companies have over governments in Australia is that internationally it is rare among the world’s major cities to permit mining in its catchment, with evidence that subsidence caused by mining has already reached the surface, draining rare upland swamps, and diverting water from key reservoirs.

These are the major reasons why the campaigns being mounted by farmers and community groups in opposing coal seam gas mining are so important. They’re taking on the dominant sector of big capital and dealing with the existential issue of climate change, and in the long run they appear certain to win. It is just a question of time – but then, that’s the biggest question of all.

Next article – Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution

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