Santos Tarbat oil exploration operations in the Eromanga Basin, Queensland. Pic Robert Garvey, for Santos.
Santos Tarbat oil exploration operations in the Eromanga Basin, Queensland. Pic Robert Garvey, for Santos.

Resources lockout feared under proposed Wild Rivers changes

MULTI-BILLION dollar resource operations in Queensland’s Channel Country could be effectively locked out of the region, should proposed changes to the state’s Wild Rivers legislation proceed in their current form.

The Queensland Government has put forward a list of potential changes to the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 (Wild Rivers Legislation) as part of a renewed Lake Eyre Basin Plan, including the prohibition of certain types of resource industry infrastructure.

The changes are of particular concern to Warrego MP Ann Leahy, who is worried about companies stopping work on their leases because of heavy restrictions.

“I think it will actually stop a lot of exploration activity out in the Eromanga and Cooper Basins, because it will increase the compliance,” she said.

“Looking at some of the stuff that I have seen, they won’t be able to build a road, or have a camp, or deal with sewerage disposal.

“If you can’t do that, you aren’t going to go there, and if that is where your leases are, you’re simply not going to develop your lease.

“So it will really impact on companies like Santos and Bridgeport, and their ability to explore and continue.”

An even bigger concern for Ms Leahy is the flow on effects to local communities which benefit from having resources activity in the area – it is estimated Santos alone has invested over $2 billion in the region over the past decade.

“There are a lot of indigenous people who are employed by the companies in that area, not to mention both the Quilpie and Bulloo shire councils, which receive a lot of income from the oil and gas industry,” Ms Leahy said

“It is why those particular councils are quite sustainable in the longer term, and it will just cause this trickle down spiral effect.

“Basically, if they lock it up, everyone is going to leave it.”

Under the current legislation, all petroleum and gas activities are deemed “acceptable uses” of land in protected zones.

Under the proposed changes, protected zones would be expanded, and exploration for resources will remain acceptable.

However, infrastructure for oil and gas storage, permanent campsites or workforce accommodation, waste disposal, and supporting infrastructure for petroleum or gas projects (such as sewage treatment plants) would be deemed “unacceptable uses”.

When the legislation changes were brought forward in late 2019, the Queensland Government hand-selected groups for consultation on the proposed changes; they included native title bodies, resources companies, environmental groups, and agricultural industry bodies.

Santos was among those consulted, and a spokeswoman told Surat Basin News the company was looking to talk further with the State Government on the matter.

“We were part of the consultation with the Queensland Resources Council, and with the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, as the peak bodies for oil and gas mining in Queenlsand,” she said.

“We think that the work we do out there is done without harm to the environment and water resources, but we will propose to the government that some of the restrictions are too tight.

“For example, we understand that you wouldn’t want permanent camps on the floodplain, but when you are conducting drilling and you only have a small camp for a short period of time, and can move it if there are likely to be floodwaters coming down, we would like to be able to continue to do those temporary activities that we are already doing.”

Santos’ view is that between their own policies and current regulation, there is sufficient protection for the environment around the Lake Eyre Basin.

Currently, it operates more than 320 oil wells and 160 gas wells, with another 60 set to be sunk this year. If more restrictions were placed on the region, the company anticipates the biggest impact would administrative – the company would be filing more applications for regional interests development approvals for the area.

“We have had a look at some of the things that have been proposed, and while we think there are already very strong environmental protections in place, we understand that the government may want to put further protections in place,” she said.

“It would mean we would need to obtain a regional interests development approval under the regional planning interest set, in addition to the existing environmental authority and tenures we already have approved. “Everywhere we operate, we operate to the highest environmental standards, and are subject to the conditions of the environmental authorities in the area … to ensure we don’t have any impact on groundwater, cause erosion, or harm the ecology, and we protect cultural heritage.”

The Santos spokeswoman said the company will continue to discuss environmental protections, including policies it already has in place, with the hope of continuing to operate out of temporary work camps in Channel Country.

“We will continue to work constructively with the government to see if we can reach some sort of conditions on the low-impact temporary activities which we would like to continue to do.

“We think there are sufficient protections in place, but understand the government made an election commitment to increase protections in southwest Queensland.

“As long as they are reasonable and allow the industry to continue operating in a safe way, without harm to the environment, we will work with those – even if it means more ‘green tape’ by making regional interest development applications.”

Charleville Western Times

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