Tuesday 6 December 2011

Coal Seam Gas Threat to the Pilliga

The Pilliga, situated between Narrabri and Coonabarabran in the central west of NSW, is the largest temperate woodland in eastern Australia.

A wonderful natural area, with magnificent old ironbarks and cypress pines, it is an internationally recognised Important Bird Area and  likely habitat for up to 48 threatened species.  It contains the only known population of the Pilliga Mouse and is a core stronghold for the Barking Owl and the Greater Long-eared Bat. It contains the only NSW population of Black-striped Wallaby and the largest inland NSW population of Koala.
Pilliga Landscape 1       Photo: L Blain

It is also very important as the southern recharge area for the Great Artesian Basin.
A massive coal seam gas industry proposal for the Pilliga could see as many 7000 wells around Narrabri.  This will place at risk large areas of farmland and public land.

In the Pilliga woodland the proposal will involve clearing of 2,400 ha of bushland and  lead to fragmentation of 85,000 ha of bushland  -  having a devastating effect on local flora and fauna. The fragmentation and proliferation of tracks and pipelines will also lead to invasion by weeds and feral animals - further degrading the ecology of the area.

Up to 63 gigalitres of toxic water will be produced from this development each year. The proponents of the scheme have no solution for the disposal of the huge quantities of salt contained in this water.  Furthermore, there is a serious risk to the Great Artesian Basin – either through de-watering of the Basin or cross-contamination of Basin water with the toxic water produced from the gas wells.

Already, in the exploratory stage, the industry has been responsible for spillage and leakage of saline water which has resulted in vegetation destruction.  If this has been allowed to happen when the development is on a small scale, there have to be very serious concerns about the potential for massive impacts as the industry grows.

Another serious concern is the fire-prone nature of the Pilliga woodland. Major fire seasons where a larger area of the woodland is burnt have occurred on average once every decade.  Large-scale gas mining in such an area is likely to increase the risk of devastating fires.

Pilliga Landscape 2         Photo: L Blain

The risks to the Pilliga are too great for this mining proposal to go ahead.  The short-term profits of mining companies should not be allowed to over-ride the interests of the broader community and future generations of both humans and other life forms.

- L Blain

 Part of this post was published in the Voices for the Earth column in The Daily Examiner on 5 December, 2011.