Channel Country advisory group outcomes about gas exploration and fracking remain secret – Michmutters

Channel Country advisory group outcomes about gas exploration and fracking remain secret

Almost 12 months after the Queensland government quietly granted oil and gas leases in the environmentally sensitive Channel Country they promised to protect, there are calls for the outcome of stakeholder meetings to be made public.

Last year the government granted 11 petroleum leases across more than 250,000 hectares of land in the Channel Country bioregion of the Lake Eyre Basin to gas company Origin Energy, which could allow unconventional gas production, known as fracking to occur, outraging locals who were not consulted .

Now, an advisory group made up of traditional owner groups, local government, landholders and other interested parties has met with the government for the last time, but the outcome of those meetings remains secret.

Managing director of one of the state’s largest organic beef producers, OBE Organic, Dalene Wray said the meetings should be more open to those, like her, who were not involved.

“I would have hoped that the Queensland government would perhaps be more transparent about the outcomes of these discussions,” Ms Wray said.

The Department of Environment and Science said in a statement last month that the government would use the information from the Lake Eyre Basin Stakeholder Advisory Group to prepare a Regulatory Impact Statement looking at the long-term sustainable management of the area.

A map showing the Lake Eyre drainage basin, including the major rivers.
Channel Country waterways are filling with Queensland floodwaters that will drain into Lake Eyre.(Supplied: Karl Musser)

In a separate statement to the ABC, a spokesperson for the department said the government was still committed to protecting the “long-term health and ecological integrity of the waterways and floodplains of the Lake Eyre Basin.”

The statement also said there will be further opportunities to consult with the government, during the consultation period of the Regulatory Impact Statement, which the government expects to be released later this year.

But Ms Wray said she had no further information about how the proposal would impact neighboring properties or production.

Organic status in jeopardy

Wangkanguru Yarluyandi woman Karen Monaghan has lived in Windorah her whole life and grew up swimming in the Cooper Creek, an experience she hoped to pass on to her grandchildren.

A close-up of an Aboriginal woman's face bathed in dappled sunlight as she stands under a tree in a backyard.
Karen Monaghan says fracking in the Channel Country is “not an option.”(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

She said she was worried about gas exploration and fracking would hurt her small community, the water, and the land around it.

“Wangkanguru Yarluyandi land is being mistreated,” Mrs Monaghan said.

“Our land is our mother… it is part of us and who we are.

“It’s embedded in us, our country. If we look after our land it will look after us … it’s not OK to mistreat our land.”

Despite a previous lack of consultation that had been frustrating, Mrs Monaghan was hopeful communication from the government would improve.

“I believe it’s never too late,” she said.

“Our government just has to step up and step out and reach out to us. It’s never too late.”

Aerial view of a dark web of rivulets between green and islands of red sand, Channel Country of Queensland
In 2019, the Queensland government was advised by environmental scientists that fracking in the Channel Country was “unacceptable”.(Supplied: Helen Commens)

She was also concerned about what the exploration would mean for beef operations in the area.

“The minute you frack you can’t call it organic beef,” Mrs Monaghan said.

“The Lake Eyre Basin is my home, so fracking is not an option for me. There is no way we want fracking.

“It’s going to set our land and our country back.”

‘Geographic masterpiece’ at risk

OBE Organic sources all its cattle from the Channel Country, marketing its products as being “seasoned by nature”, and works closely with traditional owners in the region.

A wide photo of green and brown landscape.
Floodwaters traveling down through the Lake Eyre Basin.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Ms Wray said if fracking became a reality it would risk the organic status of the Basin, which is one of the last remaining free-flowing river systems in the world.

“From an organic producers perspective, if there is any resource activity, they’re [organic producers] going to be concerned,” she said.

A map of locations in the Channel Country have production licenses from Origin Energy
Origin Energy petroleum leases cover more than 250,000 hectares of land.(Supplied: Queensland government)

Ms Wray said she was not convinced the potential risks to the environment could be adequately mitigated, and she feared large mining operations would not understand the needs of organic operations to retain their certification.

“It’s a geographic masterpiece… It’s important that the government understands that any activity is likely to have significant consequences,” she said.

“What we know from experience is that typically, the resources industry doesn’t necessarily like going off script.

“They’ve got one script they like to use for all producers and they’d like all producers to accept that script and that’s just not how it works out here, certainly on organic properties.”

Broken environmental promise

Before the 2015 election, the government committed to restore protections to the wild rivers, which would limit gas exploration in the Channel Country.

It came after they slammed the Newman government’s 2013 decision to ditch the protection laws, which they labeled as “environmental vandalism.”

In the following elections, the government made similar promises, but Ms Wray said the protections had not come to fruition.

An aerial shot of cattle grazing in a green paddock in Western Queensland's Channel Country.
OBE Organic rely on the naturally organic landscapes in the Channel Country to source their cattle.(Supplied: OBE Organic)

“I don’t think there’s been too much evidence, other than the stakeholder meetings, that we are making any progress in meeting that election commitment,” she said.

“I understand that royalties are very important to the Queensland budget… I think everyone would be naive to think the resources industry doesn’t have a place in Queensland.

“I haven’t heard the government articulate how important the rivers in the Lake Eyre Basin are and how important it is to maintain the free-flowing nature of those rivers.

“However, unconventional gas does not have a place in the Lake Eyre Basin.”

Government ‘committed to sustainability’

A spokesperson from the Department of Resources said in a statement that the Queensland government was “committed to achieving a balance between economic prosperity and ecological sustainability in the Lake Eyre Basin”.

“Any resource project must stack up environmentally, socially and financially and assessed against strict criteria,” it read.

“Any application cannot be granted unless native title has been addressed properly.”

The ABC also sought responses from the Minister for Environment and the Office of the Great Barrier Reef, which declined to comment.

An Origin spokesperson said it was very early days with regard to any proposed exploration activity in the permit areas.

“In Queensland, there are strict regulations that must be met for any resource development application in an identified planning strategic environmental area such as the Channel Country,” they said.

“As is the case with all our operations, we put in place approved management plans, procedures and controls to protect the environment and waterways, as well as areas of cultural significance.

“We always look to establish positive relationships and reach agreements to access resources on good terms. We’re looking forward to engaging further about the positive contribution future exploration activity can have in these communities.

“Any new development would need to be consistent with our stated carbon commitments.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *