Food security v energy security: land use conflict and the law
In NSW and Queensland contamination is more likely than in Western Australia, since the aquifers are very close to the coal seams being fracked. Therefore, it is necessary for the government regulating gas extraction to ensure that the well design and construction has multiple barriers to reduce the likelihood of such a contamination.
Contamination can also come from the produced water that is returned to the surface. A major challenge for governments is how this produced water, which contains fracking chemicals and compounds, is going to be treated and disposed of. It must be done in a manner that ensures it does not escape to enter surrounding water sources, such as streams, rivers and bores, thus contaminating water sources used for agriculture.
Call for an embargo
Finally, land access and conflict of land use is of major concern for farmers. This issue has been recognised by the Queensland government, which has declared a two-kilometre exclusion zone on mining activities near towns with more than 1000 people. Many farmers are calling for a similar embargo over prime agricultural areas.
Clearly there is a conflict in the use of the same area of land for agricultural purposes and the extraction of coal seam gas.
Farmers’ concerns about water use and aquifer contamination are real.
Governments are attempting to manage these important land management and technical issues. Coal seam gas development is going to forge ahead, especially since it is providing many important jobs in the declining Australian economy.
Dr Tina Hunter is assistant professor of law at Bond University, and a member of the Legal Culture Research Group and the Research Group for Natural Resources, Environment and Development Law at the University of Bergen, Norway. Read more about FAQ Research writers here.
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