Legislation in favour of farmers' water bore rights has given them the upper hand over coal seam gas companies, writes Johanna Evans.
THE LATEST DRAFT of the Underground Water Impact Report (UWIR) has been released and a very important modification to the 2019 UWIR has been included that was removed when the Water Act was changed in 2012 in regards to replacement bores, to facilitate gas companies in Queensland.
The fundamental right of the farmer to drill a replacement bore next to a collapsed bore was removed in 2012 and this is set to be reinstated. This is an important inclusion, crucial to agriculture on the Western Darling Downs and is attributed to the work of Brian Bender, the son of deceased farmer and water rights advocate George Bender. It is timely, fitting and poignant that on the six-year anniversary of George’s death, this opportunity has been presented.
George spent the last few years of his life fighting for the rights of farmers, particularly in relation to their right to access underground water on which farms rely.
Brian has spent hundreds of hours lobbying the various departments and his work has been vindicated by the Office of Groundwater Impact with this crucial inclusion in the draft report. When the Queensland Government redesigned the regulations in order to enable the gas industry to operate, some fundamental rights for farmers quietly went down the drain.
This latest draft now provides the opportunity for hundreds of landholders in the Surat Cumulative Management Area who face seemingly irreparable impacts from the coal seam gas industry to regain the rights that were removed from them. The draft UWIR states that make good obligations will be transferred from the original water bore to the replacement bore. That is, under the new UWIR, a replacement bore will remain as it was originally and will not be classified as a “new bore”.
Brian Bender states:
“We have a right to take water out of the Walloon Coal Measures and it needs to be protected. It doesn’t matter if the farmer is currently using the bore or not, he has a right to take water regardless of the gas industry’s bookkeeping.”
The story here is ridiculously complicated and even people familiar with this near decade long fight for the rights of farmers to access water are struggling to understand what occurred and how it has occurred.
There is no doubt that this draft report will make gas companies like Arrow Energy furious and that they will lobby hard to have the modifications around replacement bores removed from the draft. The cost to Arrow Energy is going to be astronomical. Governmental regulatory bodies like the Department of Environment and Science have been struggling to keep up with rogue gas companies and no doubt the pressure brought to bear upon them from the gas industry is going to be extreme.
Shay Dougall, who is a landholder advocate based in Chinchilla, says:
“The amount of time and money individual farmers must invest in understanding the implications of the legislation built to facilitate the gas industry with no regard to the agricultural industry is outrageous. The work undertaken by Mr Bender in this situation has been extraordinary. The determination it takes to keep pushing against the tide of bureaucracy, lack of political will and the bloody-minded arrogance of the gas industry is superhuman.”
This is a massive win for the farming community and for farmers, who until now were in a no-win situation with gas companies who were able to take their water bores and not compensate them.
Farmers in the district and all supporters must make sure that they support this update to the UWIR by making a submission to this draft to ensure their rights in the matter of replacement bores are upheld and are not edited out in the consultation period by conflicted departments and gas industry.
The draft report can be found here.
Submissions to support these modifications are due on 26 November 2021.
Johanna Evans is currently campaigning for the State of NSW to become CSG free and for a statewide ban on unconventional gas. She is a volunteer for North West Protection Advocacy. You can follow Johanna on Twitter @jo_noCSG.
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