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Doctors for the Environment Australia’s submission regarding the impact of mining coal seam gas

 

 

 

Summary

  • Coal seam gas mining (CSG) may have adverse impacts on human health by contamination of drinking and agricultural-use water, and air. Contaminants of concern include many of the chemicals used for fracking, as well as toxic substances produced through this process and mobilised from the sedimentary regions drilled. Some of these compounds can produce short-term health effects and some may contribute to systemic illness and/or cancer many years later.
  • The public health consideration of these matters has been inadequate; leaving the population exposed to potential health hazards.
  • Publicly available information on the chemicals used for this purpose in Australia is inadequate, as is their assessment and regulation.
  • Evidence from several countries has shown that environmental exposures are occurring which may put people at risk, and these concerns have led to moratoria on further mining operations.
  • There is a significant threat of ground water pollution, for the hydrological systems involved are complex and inadequately researched. CSG mining in the Great Artesian Basin is unwise because of the potential for contamination in a system which may not be renewable.
  • The monitoring of potential contamination of water supplies in coal seam gas mining areas is inadequate.
  • Coal seam gas mining uses prodigious amounts of water, which will compete with human and agricultural needs. Great Artesian Basin water is essentially a non-renewable resource. It is already at an advanced stage of depletion. Remaining water should be used with great care and only for essential agricultural and human purposes. Coal seam gas mining must not be permitted.
  • Human health relies on having clean safe drinking water and unpolluted air. Coal seam mining operations should not be allowed to endanger these basic health needs of Australians. The development of this industry in Australian conditions is very unwise without adequate scientific studies and the application of precautionary principle.
  • Health impacts are occurring now from the disruption of hitherto stable farming communities with much of the stress, family discord and mental illness expected to be reminiscent of the Murray Valley region due to drought.
  • The long-term impacts of unconventional gas mining in the United States suggest significant damage to the ecological systems upon which human life exists. There are significant health impacts in loss of good agricultural land in the face of the long-term need to feed Australians. The impact on Australia’s ability to feed other countries as the world moves to increasing food shortages must also be considered.
  • Australia is also one of the world’s food bowls. According to the FAO, there are currently more than one billion human beings in hunger. Over the past 18 months, climate unpredictability in both the northern and southern hemispheres has led to massive crop failures. Such effects are what the active climate science community has been predicting for years.
  • The projected economic gains from the industry have been widely promulgated but a full cost-benefit analysis of the impacts on the wider economy of a massively expanded CSG industry has not been done. Financial benefits from employment, mining royalties and the export of coal seam gas must be offset against damage to agriculture, food exports, tourism, soil, water and air quality, and human health and well-being.
  • Methane is a fossil fuel, and contributes to green house emissions and therefore climate change. As such it will be contributing to the increasing burden of illness due to climate change globally. These factors have not been considered in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) processes or by Australian governments. There are implications for Australia’s relations with other countries and for future international agreements.
  • The fossil fuel footprint of coal seam gas is said to be half that of coal. This is in some doubt and further information is needed. Detailed monitoring of fugitive emissions is necessary. In particular, such figures become meaningless if there is methane leakage at the point of extraction. At least in the short term, methane is an infinitely worse green house gas than CO2.
  • Doctors for the Environment Australia considers that the EIA processes used have been inadequate and have failed to assess health impacts appropriately. Notifications of terms of reference and dates of CSG and coal projects are poorly advertised and response times inadequate.

Full copy of the submission can be found here

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