The federal environment minister has approved a $35 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Central Queensland despite fears it could poison the Great Artesian Basin.
The Australia Pacific LNG project at Gladstone has been given the green-light under strict environmental conditions, Environment and Water Minister Tony Burke said in a statement.
Mr Burke said detailed ongoing monitoring of the Great Artesian Basin and “early warnings” of any contamination of groundwater were required.
“After a rigorous assessment, which sought the advice of experts and included public consultation, I have concluded that the Australia Pacific LNG project can go ahead without unacceptable impacts on matters protected under national environment law,” Mr Burke said.
The joint Origin Energy and ConocoPhillips project to convert coal seam gas (CSG) to LNG is expected to generate hundreds of jobs for Queensland.
However, chemical and water experts say chemicals linked with the production of CSG have not been evaluated by the national regulator.
Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith told ABC on Monday 23 major chemicals used in extracting CSG have not been assessed by any national regulator.
John Hillier, a principal hydrologist for 13 years with the Queensland government, said he had concerns about the impact the CSG industry would have on the Great Artesian Basin.
Mr Burke said thresholds on water extraction had been set in the Basin, which was the basis for his approval of similar projects by Santos and QGC.
He said companies must submit water management and monitoring plans detailing impacts on aquifers, groundwater and surface water.
“Water pressure must be maintained above conservative thresholds that will be set on the advice of experts.
Should these be exceeded, the companies must have plans ready to re-establish pressure, through re-injection or other means,” Mr Burke said.
“In making my decision, I considered the potential impacts on agricultural land, and have set strict environmental conditions to ensure water resources are properly managed to protect nationally significant matters.”
The approval also includes conditions to protect threatened species and ecosystems, including migratory birds and national and world heritage values.
Mr Burke said to offset “unavoidable” impacts on Curtis Island where LNG facilities are based, companies must set aside an area five times the size of their project sites for national park.
He said any dredging will be subject to strict conditions to minimise impacts on marine species and water quality.