Story transcripts

Undermined

Friday, May 14, 2010

Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producer: Stephen Rice, Jo Townsend

How's this for a raw deal?

A big company marches onto your land, sinks a well without your permission and then proceeds to threaten your livelihood.

And it does it all with the consent and approval of the government.

Now this would be bad enough if it was happening halfway across the world in some tin pot dictatorship.

But this is happening in our backyard. And it's our laws and our politicians who are letting it happen.

Story contacts:

The Western Downs Alliance has been formed to look at the issues and problems confronting the diverse communities that occupy the Darling Downs with relation to the coal seam gas mining industry.
http://tararuralgroup.com/

The Basin Sustainability Alliance has been formed to support individuals, landholder groups and communities concerned about the rapid development of the coal seam gas industry.
www.basinsustainabilityalliance.org

The Queensland Department of Mines and Energy provides information to landowners and occupiers facing pressure for access to their lands for mining, mineral, gas and other resources exploration and development:
www.dme.qld.gov.au

Peter Shannon, of Shannon Donaldson Province Lawyers, in Dalby, represents many landowners affected by coal seam gas mining.
www.provincelawyers.com

Coal seam gas information sheet from the Qld Government:
http://www.dip.qld.gov.au/

Documentary on the coal seam gas experience in Colorado, USA.
http://www.splitestate.com/

GasLand, a documentary about the coal seam gas experience in America, will be playing at the Sydney Film Festival in June 2010 http://sff.org.au

Additional footage used in the 60 Minutes story:
"Split Estate", Courtesy Bullfrog Films, produced and directed by Debra Anderson.
"Gasland", directed by Josh Fox. Courtesy Palace Films.

Full transcript:

STORY -

LIZ HAYES: Out in Queensland's central west, it's war...

MAN: You're under arrest. This is a citizen's arrest. You've been dumping toxic waste all up that road. I've been filming you.

LIZ HAYES: ..a war that's pitting angry locals against the big gas companies.

MAN WITH DAYNE PRATSKY: That's pretty high. I don't even like being here, mate. I think we should get out of here. That's a lot of gas coming out of there, man. The levels are high, man. Let's go. Let's get out of here.

LIZ HAYES: Properties are being taken over and now their water supplies are spewing out gas.

LIZ HAYES: That is gas. That's outrageous, really, isn't it?

DAYNE PRATSKY: It is. It's insane.

LIZ HAYES: Gas is Australia's new gold, and just like the gold rush era of the 1850s nearly every backyard in Queensland's Western Downs is being plundered by 21st-century prospectors.

LIZ HAYES: So 60 of these, huh?

SCOTT LLOYD: 60 of these, yeah.

KATE LLOYD: It's the worst-case scenario - I hope, I hope.

LIZ HAYES: Trouble is, for local landowners like Kate and Scott Lloyd it's happening under their feet whether they like it or not.

KATE LLOYD: You had people coming here saying that they would potentially move your house if there was gas under it.

LIZ HAYES: Did they actually say that?

KATE LLOYD: They did.

LIZ HAYES: The Lloyds run beef cattle on 8,000 acres just outside the town of Chinchilla, and their property, like so many others in the district, sits on rich deposits of coal and gas. Imagine this - you've found your own slice of heaven, a few acres in the country where you've set up home. It's tranquil, it's peaceful and you're living the dream. Then one day the gas company calls and it's not to read the meter. They've come to tell you - not ask you, but to tell you - they're going to build this, a gas well, right in your own backyard, and the law says there's nothing you can do to stop them.

SCOTT LLOYD: There's no "We won't drill in this area. It's an exclusion zone." It's just, "If there's gas there, it's ours and we'll take it."

LIZ HAYES: And what do you say when you hear that?

SCOTT LLOYD: Oh, it just... the relationship from there on just went pear shaped...

KATE LLOYD: Deteriorated.

SCOTT LLOYD: ..and it was pretty awful.

LIZ HAYES: Is that the point also when you realise you've lost control of your own property?

KATE LLOYD: Absolutely.

SCOTT LLOYD: That's exactly right.

LIZ HAYES: In Australia, most land - irrespective of who owns it - is subject to being mined if it sits on valuable resources, and here it's coal seam gas, found in the deep veins of coal, metres beneath the ground. It's in vast tracts of Queensland and all over Australia. Coal seam gas wells are already being drilled in WA and NSW.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: We see it as a very important industry for future job creation and wealth creation here in Queensland.

LIZ HAYES: Gas companies have signed contracts worth up to $100 billion to supply gas to a number of countries for the next 20 years, and according to Queensland's Mines Minister Stephen Robertson it's an industry that has a long life.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: It's an industry that just in terms of royalties that will come to government is worth around $850 million, but I think, more importantly, if all the projects go ahead we're looking at around 18,000 new jobs.

LIZ HAYES: So it's worth money and it's worth jobs, but for how long?

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: As long as the resource lasts, and the predictions are that Queensland's coal resources have a horizon of at least 200 years.

LIZ HAYES: To date, gas companies are planning to drill 30,000 to 40,000 wells in this area, and about $1,500 a well is paid in compensation, but it is an invasion few landowners are prepared for.

MAN: We are going to be a prisoner in our own home.

MAN: They're going to rip it out of the ground as fast as they can. They're going to sell it to China and India and so on as cheap as they can, and they're going to leave your area an industrial wasteland.

LIZ HAYES: At a town meeting we called, local residents were angry.

MAN: You better wake up and smell the roses because all we're smelling at the moment is bloody gas.

PETER SHANNON: I feel it's the most one-sided legislation I've ever been associated with in 27 years of practice.

LIZ HAYES: Peter Shannon is the bush lawyer every town should have - passionately fighting what he sees as a serious injustice.

PETER SHANNON: If you haven't been associated with mining or the gas industry generally, you live in a dream world of thinking that your land is your castle.

LIZ HAYES: Most of the landholders that you're dealing with, did they ever think that this would happen to them?

PETER SHANNON: I don't think there's been the remotest conception of the reality that is now facing them, and it's incredibly destabilising to them because they have built generations, they've built lifestyles, they've had plans - they've had plans for their futures and their kids' futures.

LIZ HAYES: Without doubt, these are lucrative deals for the Queensland Government, but coal seam gas mining has been blamed for shocking health and environmental impacts.

STEVE MOBALDI: I'm 54 and she's 59. She's changed. She's changed so much.

LIZ HAYES: In Rifle, Colorado, Steve believes his wife, Chris, has gone from being a healthy, vibrant woman to this because of the pollutants caused by gas mining.

STEVE MOBALDI: I was afraid she was going to bleed to death - she'd wake up in the morning and she would be covered in blood, and her nose would be bleeding like crazy, the pillow was covered with blood.

LIZ HAYES: Critics claim that illnesses, including cancers and neurological disorders, are the result of the gas extraction process. In what's called fracking, a concoction of chemicals and sand are hydraulically rammed into the well to fracture the coal seam and release the gas. The chemicals used are a closely guarded secret by mining industry officials.

LIZ HAYES: Do you know what's put down into those wells?

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: Yes.

LIZ HAYES: Do you know what chemicals are used.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: Not totally, no.

LIZ HAYES: Shouldn't you? Shouldn't you know what chemicals they hydraulically ram down those wells?

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: Well, what I'm assured about is that the processes that they employ are appropriate processes for the extraction of that coal seam gas.

LIZ HAYES: And America has seen more fallout - household taps suddenly gushing gas as well as water and backyard gas wells exploding,

WOMAN: We heard this pop and then our son called and said that the well was on fire. It was blowing right that way. Then the fire trucks came but they waited way down 'cause there was nothing they could do.

LIZ HAYES: All of which makes the Queensland locals nervous about the same wells springing up here.

MAN WITH DAYNE PRATSKY: That's an example of a very dangerous gas well.

LIZ HAYES: They're concerned enough to be carrying out their own inspections. Since these videos were shot, the gas companies have been forced to retest and repair wells that have been leaking.

MAN WITH DAYNE PRATSKY: I don't want to be here, mate. That'll do for today. I've seen enough. I do not want to be around this well at all. I don't want to start a vehicle near it, mate.

LIZ HAYES: And here at a water bore on a farm near Chinchilla something very strange is happening.

DAYNE PRATSKY: Now we're getting substantial amounts of gas.

LIZ HAYES: Is that gas that's making that gurgle?

DAYNE PRATSKY: That's the gurgling noise you're hearing.

LIZ HAYES: Local Dayne Pratsky says since mining began nearby the bore is spewing more gas than water, and just to prove it - when you light it, it does this.

LIZ HAYES: When you look at that you realise that something is seriously wrong.

DAYNE PRATSKY: Well, you can't deny it.

GAVIN MUDD: I think the question is, is what's caused that to happen. You can go on the balance of probability and it seems to me that it's not a natural event.

LIZ HAYES: You can hear it, it's got that angry 'I'm going to blow at any minute' sound.

GAVIN MUDD: Yeah. Yeah.

LIZ HAYES: Gavin Mudd is a hydrogeologist from Monash University. He warns that coal seam gas mining has the potential to impact Australia's huge reserves of underground water.

GAVIN MUDD: A lot of the communities around here are dependent on ground water and the coal seams are very close to where people are pumping ground water from.

LIZ HAYES: What is the worst-case scenario as far as you're concerned?

GAVIN MUDD: The worst-case scenario, I think, to be frank, is really the long-term impacts on the Great Artesian Basin.

LIZ HAYES: Doesn't mining fracture the water table?

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: That's one of the allegations that is made.

LIZ HAYES: Is that not true?

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: Well, that's one of the allegations that is made. That is why we've put in place the independent Queensland Water Commission to oversee that.

LIZ HAYES: But is it not true?

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: Sorry?

LIZ HAYES: Are you saying it's not true.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: Well, there is...

LIZ HAYES: Or are you saying you don't know?

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: No, no, there is a body of opinion that says that once the water is extracted out of the coal seam that that causes the water to be released from the Artesian Basin. There is another body of opinion that says that is not the case.

LIZ HAYES: See, these are vital things to know before any of this should be taking place - and you don't know.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: No, what we've got in place is a very vigorous monitoring regime.

LIZ HAYES: When gas wells are drilled thousands of megalitres of water are released, along with tonnes of salt - none of which can go back into the soil.

MAN: If we look into history, we stuffed up the Murray-Darling Basin from over-allocation. It's costing us hundreds of millions of dollars now to fix. We don't want the same thing happening in the gas industry. I don't want my kids having to pay the bill for the stuff-ups happening today.

LIZ HAYES: The gas companies declined to attend our town meeting.

RAY BROWN: We have enormous wealth of assets right beneath our feet.

LIZ HAYES: It was left to local mayor Ray Brown to face a sometimes angry crowd.

MAN: Why don't the Government come clean? This is a very poisonous, dangerous thing you're doing to the farmers' water.

RAY BROWN: Even as late as today, I've been assured that in the fracking process they use in Australia a biodegradable presence. Now, they don't frack a lot.

LIZ HAYES: But they frack?

RAY BROWN: They do frack, from what I understand.

MAN: It is disposable of toxic water that ran into my dam.

MAN: This is the biggest single issue that we've seen in this country ever.

MAN: We're concerned about the future of this area - well, we won't have an area in 20 or 30 years once this mining's come and taken what it wants.

LIZ HAYES: But protest as they might, the mining companies have all the power, and, as Kate Woodhouse found out, even what looks like a win has ended in a loss.

KATE WOODHOUSE: I was quite surprised. I honestly thought that I owned this land and obviously I own a lot less of it than I realised.

LIZ HAYES: Kate runs a wildlife sanctuary on 15 acres near the Western Downs tiny town of Tara. She resisted moves to put a well on her property so the gas company simply built one across the road.

LIZ HAYES: How far is this from your home?

KATE WOODHOUSE: Less than 200 metres.

LIZ HAYES: That's pretty close.

KATE WOODHOUSE: It certainly is. Especially when it's going to have a pumping station set up next to it and who knows what we'll get then.

LIZ HAYES: So there's more to come?

KATE WOODHOUSE: Oh, yes.

LIZ HAYES: For most of us, our home is our castle, but with a resources boom now driving the Australian economy, it's to be remembered that what we own is only skin deep.

KATE LLOYD: It's bigger than Scott and I and this property. There's potential there to have a devastating impact on our whole region.

LIZ HAYES: It's gone beyond your fence?

KATE LLOYD: It has - it has gone beyond our fence - and it's frightening.

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