No clear answer to co-existence of mining and farming

CAN coal seam gas mining and farming co-exist?

Well, according to the author of a study undertaken by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, the answer is "yes and no".

Dr John Williams said his research suggested CSG mining and agriculture might be able to co-exist where there were low density farming pursuits such as grazing but there would be problems in high density pursuits like cropping.

The only way is to be systematic and use the best knowledge and science in your landscape to know what you're doing.

Their ability to co-exist would depend on intensity of the mining, the environment and extraction methods. It was likely that in some areas there could be as many as 200-300 wells in a 700m diameter space.

He said running a cropping operation, which required the efficient use of heavy machinery, would be made difficult where there were so many mines plus pipes, cables and road networks.

"I can't see how cropping can be compatible with that, so you need to take out which valuable agricultural cropping land is critical," he said.

"It probably is compatible where there are some forms of grazing but it will have biodiversity impacts and they need to be understood and set aside."

He said there were major discrepancies between what a farmer was allowed to do on his land and that allowed by a mining company. A farmer could not touch a kookaburra but for mining companies the Vegetation Act was suspended.

He said most CSG mining activities had about a 30-year time-frame. "After that, all the infrastructure that was used has to be dismantled and I don't think there has been much attention given to how those wells can be made secure forever because they will be connecting water bodies if they decay and fail," he said.

"The place with the best way forward, I think, is the Namoi Catchment Management Authority which is trying to implement some of the things I'm advocating.

"Public opinion says this needs a proper solution, so we need to be asking our leaders, 'well, what are you going to do about it?'.

"The only way is to be systematic and use the best knowledge and science in your landscape to know what you're doing."

Dr Williams said that because mining methods, environment and intensity of operations varied by region, there needed to full, region-based assessments of mining applications. That wasn't happening.

He said there was concern landowners could not refuse to have mining on their land.

"We treat mining as though it is different from any other land use. Why?" he said.

"It is not a level playing field in the way landowners can negotiate an arrangement.

"I think the Mining Act needs revision so there is a level playing field."

Read the document summary here.



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