Queensland’s coal seam gas exploration laws give the mining industry an unfair advantage over individual landowners, a Dalby lawyer says.
Peter Shannon, who is representing a number of landholders under threat from CSG drilling, said the law was weighted against landholders in several ways.
Companies applying to environmental authorities for gas fields are not required to give full information about their intended activities, Mr Shannon said.
“All they have to do is advertise in a paper circulating in the area,” he said.
“There is no obligation to contact individual landholders, so it comes as a considerable surprise to people to realise there’s a process going on in which they want input but know nothing about, because there’s no obligation to tell them.”
Mr Shannon said the advertisements are obliquely worded.
“They’ll refer to a particular field by name, (but) very few landholders have a concept what the particular fields are named, so seeing the field name advertised means nothing to them.”
He said this hole in the legislation should be filled, so that accurate geographical descriptions are given.
Communications from gas companies was “like learning Mandarin” for landholders, he said.
“Two years later, when you can actually talk the language (that the companies use) they say, why didn’t you raise this earlier.
“It’s because you couldn’t talk the bloody language.”
Mr Shannon said the make-good provisions that supposedly require compensation to landowners for damage to water supplies is “hopeless, dire and alarming”.
“It is of uncertain duration, it leaves landholders on their own negotiating with industry and they have no commercial clout to negotiate anyway,” Mr Shannon said.
He said current law is doing very little to protect landholders and the community-at-large from the impact of mining on water supplies.
He said compensation applied only to a drop in water availability, not to contamination of the supply except where it relates to a drop in the underground water level.
Mr Shannon said it was obvious the gas explorers had too much influence in drafting Queensland laws as they apply to CSG.
Howard Hobbs, the LNP Member for Warrego whose electorate contains many of the gas wells, says Mr Shannon’s comments are valid.
Mr Hobbs said the government is “incompetent” when it comes to handling these kind of matters and any refinements they have made since the legislation was first passed in 2008 have come too late.
He said the LNP was not opposed to coal seam gas exploration, but did not agree that it should happen on prime agricultural land nor in areas which would have an impact on people’s homes.
“I believe the companies should stay away from a lot of those areas,” he said
“Common sense should prevail when they are going to start putting wells down.
“Some of those wells in the past were put down only a few hundred metres from homes and that’s just not acceptable.”
He said the government’s report made recommendations the government is now only catching up with in legislation.
Mr Hobbs said he would be supporting the Brisbane protest next week which is being held to back protests by the people of Tara, one of the towns most affected by the exploration.