Mining has always been an important part of the Australian economy.
What has changed is the unprecedented scale and pace of its expansion. This is already irrevocably altering the Australian landscape and affecting food production, water security and communities across the nation.
The coal seam gas fields approved to date in Queensland will cover tens of thousands of square kilometres with an industrial grid of wells, pipelines, roads and water treatment plants. They will feed three huge gas processing plants being constructed within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area on Curtis Island. There are proposals to increase this threefold.
Australia is already the second largest coal exporter in the world, but with a series of “mega mines” there are plans to significantly increase the amount of coal we mine and export within the decade.
These huge projects are staggering in size. No one visiting Central Queensland or the Hunter Valley in NSW would be left in any doubt that they are transforming Australia’s rural landscape. However, it is the impacts that we don’t see that are often the most serious.
Coal mines and coal seam gas drilling disrupt aquifers that are essential to farmers and the natural environment. Coal mines are known to have discharged large amounts of contaminated water into our river systems, and no-one knows what to do with the huge amounts of contaminated water and salt that result from dewatering coal seams for gas drilling.
The human health impacts of coal are well documented and greenhouse gases that result from burning Australian coal and gas are a major contributor to climate change.
While these impacts are primarily social and environmental, they are also fundamentally economic issues. Industrialisation of rural areas directly impacts on the agricultural and tourism industries, and damage to the environment and people’s health is ultimately paid for by the community.
The Australia Institute has always been concerned with a broad range of economic, social and environmental issues that are essential to Australia’s future. All of these are impacted in a multitude of ways by Australia’s coal and gas expansion.
State governments have had the primary responsibility for managing resource development in Australia, but have failed to find an appropriate balance between the interest of the mining industry and the rest of the community.
These activities will have a profound impact on all Australians for many generations. As such, we believe it is time to look carefully at how the Commonwealth government can protect our food, water, environment and communities.
The policy question that always motivates The Australia Institute is ‘what should be done?’ Over the past three years we have published dozens of research papers which highlight the economic, social and environmental consequences of the unprecedented expansion of the fossil fuel extraction industry. We are proud to publish this research by the Australian Network of Environmental Defender’s Offices to help start the conversation about what we need to do about it.
Click ‘download’ to read the report.