Review of ecological impact of current unconventional gas operations in the Surat Basin, Queensland

The last decade has seen a rapid expansion of the onshore unconventional gas industry in Queensland, particularly the Surat basin, though gas development has also proceeded in the northern Bowen Basin, the Surat Basin was chosen because of the longer history and greater extent of operations. There have been four primary large gas development projects, each with its own onshore gas field, processing plants and pipelines, GLNG (Santos), QCLNG (Shell), APLNG (Origin Energy/ConocoPhillips) and Arrow Energy. Cumulatively the industry has established tenements over 2.6 million hectares in the Basin.

Impact of gasfield on ecosystems and habitats are generally considered to be ‘low’ and manageable by proponents mainly because of small scale of direct impact at a regional scale. But there are a number of key issues which has plagued the approval of the projects. Together they have reduced the reliability of the assessment of impact on the natural environment of the unconventional gas industry:
1. Significant question marks remain over the transparency of the consent process used to kick-start this industry in Queensland;
2. Little account at all taken of indirect impacts in approvals and cumulative impacts;
3. Low level of reliability of surveys to accurately map and determine presence or absence of sensitive matters;
4. Poor analysis of the impact on groundwater resources and consideration of impacts on groundwater ecosystems;
5. Poor consideration of impacts upon surface waters;
6. Poor consideration of impacts of Gladstone development on marine environment and World Heritage Area,
7. Inadequacy of offset proposal and management plans to compensate for impacts.
These issues have hindered the generation of a baseline level of ecological data as an accurate reflection of what is present and being impacted on the ground and therefore an accurate picture of the impact. This is as much an issue for government who have compounded this by allowing the approvals to proceed without the usual requirements being met prior to approval. The Commonwealth and Queensland Governments have subsequently attempted to make companies accountable in some of the matters of concern through consent conditions and management strategies. However, besides a lack of baseline data, the scientific validity of this process is further hindered due to the time-lag between initial consent and finalisation of the plans – allowing construction to proceed without oversight.

Name: David Paull