Queensland farmers shut the gate on coal seam gas with ‘gasfield free’ pledge

Dozens of Queensland farmers have turned up the heat on a coal seam gas project backed by multinationals which they say will jeopardise food and fibre production.

Mar 26, 2024, updated Mar 26, 2024
The report follows the announcement by Arrow Energy to start the development of its $10 billion Surat CSG project. (Photo: supplied)

The report follows the announcement by Arrow Energy to start the development of its $10 billion Surat CSG project. (Photo: supplied)

The Arrow Energy Surat gas project is a coal seam gas development in southern Queensland and a joint venture between global giants Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina.

Operating in the Dalby region, Arrow is considering whether to expand into new areas which some farmers fiercely oppose.

“We are deeply concerned about the impacts coal seam gas will have on our prime agricultural lands,” cotton and mixed grain farmer Liza Balmain told AAP.

On Monday, a group of farmers, including Ms Balmain, gathered in Toowoomba in Queensland to sign a “gasfield free” declaration against coal seam gas mining.

“We are declaring our farms ‘gasfield free’, voicing opposition to coal seam gas mining occurring on, or under our properties,” the producer said.

Ms Balmain farms near Cecil Plains about 200km west of Brisbane and is worried by any expansion of the Surat gas project, including the impact to ground water.

“If anything were to happen to that water, there’s no reversing the impact,” Ms Balmain said.

“We’ve got some of the best cropping country in Queensland, if not Australia, really highly fertile, highly productive soils.”

Arrow Energy first applied to mine in the Surat Basin in 2011.

The gas project stretches across Queensland’s Darling Downs, which is also prime agricultural land.

Lock the Gate, a group of farmers and environmentalists concerned about access to agricultural land, is behind the declaration, and said many more have signed on.

“A ‘gasfield free’ declaration is a really powerful statement by landowners and communities that this is not the future they want for their properties,” Nick Holliday from Lock the Gate said.

But a spokesperson for Arrow said it operates in one of the most highly regulated industries in the world and takes a science-based approach to its operations.

The company said the impact on groundwater has been assessed and managed in the Surat Basin for more than a decade.

“Arrow is currently operating in the Dalby region and we will engage extensively with communities before expanding to new areas in the Surat,” it said in a statement.

“Arrow has hundreds of productive relationships with landholders across the Surat and we genuinely believe the agricultural and gas industries can be productive side-by-side.”

But Ms Balmain has no faith in the consultation project.

“They might say they have good relationships, but we’re not seeing it ourselves, we’re hearing of the bad ones,” she said.

In 2022, Arrow Energy was fined $1 million for illegally drilling deviated wells beneath farms without notifying the property owner.

The Surat Gas Project operates 250 wells around the Dalby region, with the development expected to comprise up to 2500 gas wells over 30 years.

A spokesperson for Queensland’s Department of Resources said agriculture and resources were multibillion dollar industries supporting thousands of jobs.

“Any resources project must stack up environmentally, socially and financially and are assessed against strict criteria,” they said.

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