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30 November, 2023

TRC announces moratorium on Coal Seam Gas as farmers mull options

Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) has resolved to write a submission to the Queensland State Government asking for ongoing and meaningful engagement with landholders regarding Coal Seam Gas extraction across the region, particularly in the Cecil Plains district.


ABOVE: Farmers attended a legal seminar last week to discuss their rights when dealing with coal-seam gas companies.

The Moratorium was moved by Cr Bill Cahill who said that, “Based on the evidence today, it is not unreasonable as Council to ask for a period of time to put the brakes on here.”

The Queensland State Government Department of Resources has a paper open for consultation until 8 December, 2023 with TRC resolving at November’s Ordinary Meeting to make a submission.

Toowoomba Region Mayor Geoff McDonald said TRC had adopted its position having engaged local landholders.

“At Council’s recent Cecil Plains Community Barbecue and Engagement event, those Councillors present received a briefing from a group of concerned landholders about the development of CSG projects in the area, particularly over priority agricultural land,” he said.

“The group were invited to present as a deputation to Council, and this occurred at the Ordinary Meeting on Tuesday, 24 October, 2023.

“The motions passed at yesterday’s Ordinary Meeting are a direct response to the information presented at the deputation, and aligns with ‘Council’s Corporate Plan 2024-2029’, specifically ‘Goal 2 – Place’, ‘We value our environments, our natural assets, and our rich agricultural land.’,” Mayor McDonald said.

TRC passed two separate resolutions at the Ordinary Meeting as follows:

That Council:

Provide a submission in response to the Queensland Department of Resources “Consultation Paper – Coexistence institutions and CSG-induced subsidence management framework” that states:

“Council values our environments, our natural assets, and our rich agricultural land.

Council expresses the following expectations in our Region:

i.              That there will continue to be ongoing and meaningful engagement with landholders and consideration of their concerns.

ii.             That priority agricultural land is not negatively affected as a result of CSG extraction.

iii.            That research-based decisions are made in regard to the potential subsidence issues caused by CSG extraction.

iv.           That concerns about the potential negative impact on the Condamine Alluvium will be considered and mitigated.”

And:

“That Council call for a moratorium on approving new CSG activities in Toowoomba Regional Council area to allow time for the critical consideration of Council’s submission to the Queensland Department of Resources “Consultation Paper – Coexistence institutions and CSG-induced subsidence management framework”.

“Council encourages the State Government to properly take into consideration submissions from landholders.

“This includes landholder views of the impacts of CSG-subsidence to their livelihoods, the sustainability of farming practices on their lands, and their perception of suitable and appropriate remedies and regulatory mechanisms,” Mayor McDonald said.

Council has until 8th December, 2023 to finalise its submission.

Lock the Gate Alliance and Darling Downs farmers say they welcome TRC’s decision to lay down a moratorium on new coal seam gas approvals in the Cecil Plains district.

It also coincides with a legal seminar at Cecil Plains last week, where farmers were provided with information to help them in the event they are approached by coal seam gas companies wanting to access their land.

The meeting followed a discussion in August where farmers and community members held a large meeting at Cecil Plains to voice their concerns about coal seam gas, which was attended by Independent Senator David Pocock.

The State Government is also currently consulting on changes to the Regional Planning Interest Act that regulates mining on Prime Agricultural Land.

Arrow Energy, a joint venture of Shell and PetroChina, is attempting to drill more than 7000 gas wells for its Surat Gas Project between Cecil Plains and Wandoan.

Cecil Plains farmer Liza Balmain welcomed the council’s support.

“We are delighted that the Toowoomba Regional Council has taken this valiant, strong and proactive stand to protect our region’s invaluable natural assets including our pivotal prime agriculture, our environment and our groundwater resources, relied upon by so many regional residents,” she said.

“It is so encouraging to see a council listening to its local communities and advocating for the precautionary principle to protect the future food, water, and climate security of our region.  

“Toowoomba Council has shown itself to be an outstanding, visionary and progressive council which we applaud whole-heartedly.”

Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland Coordinator Ellie Smith said, “This vote from Toowoomba Councillors shows they understand where the long term economic and social base of the region lies: with farmers and not a multinational petroleum company that will wreak havoc and then leave. 

“Councillors should be commended for taking this step.

“Much of the farmland in the Toowoomba Regional Council area is prime agricultural land and strategic cropping land, so Arrow Energy still needs approvals from the Queensland Government to drill here.

“While councils have little direct say when it comes to coal seam gas drilling, opposition by councils has been extremely powerful in other parts of Queensland where planned gas and mining projects have not gone ahead, like the Scenic Rim and Bundaberg.

“The Palaszczuk Government ought to respect the views of local councillors and local farmers. 

“Annastacia Palaszczuk has created a reputation for herself as a premier who understands the bush. 

“Here is her chance to show she means it. 

“She ought to side with farmers protecting our best farmland for the future. 

“But instead, the government is currently considering changes to the Act that were put in place to protect farmland. 

“There is a real risk the Palaszczuk Government will wash its hands of one of the biggest threats to prime agricultural land - the sinking of farmland due to coal seam gas induced subsidence. 

“At a time when local farmers and the local council are calling for a moratorium on new approvals in part because of this huge threat to slope-dependent farmland, it would be negligent for the government to ignore subsidence in the assessment of impacts on prime agricultural land.”

At the meeting last Wednesday, farmers met to discuss their rights when it came to dealing with coal-seam gas companies. 

A lawyer from the  Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) offered advice to landholders which amounted to the following:

1. Stick together

2. Beware of divide and conquer negotiation tactics

3. Communicate with each other

4. The EDO may be able to help.

An Arrow Energy spokesperson said the company was committed to being transparent in its dealings with stakeholders.

Gas is critical to reliable, sustainably affordable energy in Queensland,” the spokesperson said. 

“We remain committed to continuing to engage with the Council and local landholders to address any concerns regarding our activities in the region.

“Our Surat Gas Project brings numerous benefits to the Toowoomba community, including increased job opportunities and economic growth.

 “Over the past 18 months (from 2022 through the first half of 2023), we have invested nearly $90 million in the Toowoomba Regional Council area.”


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