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Blockading Bentley

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I’ve been at Bentley.  Witches Kitchen has been neglected, partly because I’ve been sleeping in the back of the car and waking up at dawn, to an odd combination of celebratory empowerment and the prospect of fronting riot police. But also because I want to write about it but I don’t know where to start.

Coal seam gas, tight sands gas, unconventional gas, “natural gas” – by its many Orwellian double-speak names designed to confuse  – whatever you call it, this kind of mining is so very much a part of the stories  of rural Australia today that it is difficult to truly appreciate how “under the radar” it is for many people.  Coal mining has its own, marginally more familiar, issues.  Gas mining has only very recently exploded onto the scene. Bad as coal mining is for greenhouse gas production and destruction of agricultural communities, gas mining is orders of magnitude worse.  Multiply by a thousand times whatever reservations you have about expanding the coal industry, and you’re in the ballpark.

The system is broken.  Absolutely buggered. Two bit tin-pot companies with absentee directors and no money are allowed to take out exploration licenses over vast areas of land that they don’t own, and have no sense of responsibility for.  Doesn’t matter if it is prime agricultural or watershed or rural residential or ecologically significant or if the owner disagrees.  They can hang onto the licenses for little cost or effort, just as a ticket in a lottery that there is something valuable underneath.  They can forcibly enter and dig exploration wells, protected by riot police that you as taxpayers pay for if necessary.  If they find nothing, little lost. If they make a mess they can fold and disappear. If they find gas, they’ve hit a jackpot.

This is gas that is hard to get out.  It’s not sitting in pockets. It’s soaked through sandstone or shale or dirty coal seams.  The method is to drill down, then horizontally for kilometres, then hydrollically fracture the rock allowing the gas to seep into the drilled channel.  The fracturing is done with lots of water and some very toxic chemicals, but they are then mixed with underground gases and minerals like arsenic and uranium that are “natural” but toxic, and the methane they are after, and the whole horrible lot is transported to the surface in concrete pipes that inevitably leak sooner or later and often sooner.  Through water tables and and impermeable rocks and springs, destroying the underground integrity of water flows and polluting everything it touches.

There’s not a huge lot of it per well, so there needs to be a lot – a very lot – of wells to make it all worthwhile.  Lots of water, holding ponds of the toxic “produced water”, underground horizontal drill channels in every direction, above ground pipelines.  This is a real, Google Earth picture of a gasfield in Queensland, stretching all the way between the towns of Tara and Chinchilla.  You get the idea?  We’re not talking about one little well producing lots of wealth.  We’re talking about low return, high risk, mega-industrial complexes.

Tara gasfield

Neither do the wells produce for very long.  As you can imagine, fracturing kilometres of rock well underground and waiting for gas to seep out is about as efficient as the fishing method of chucking dynamite into a dam.  Lots of the gas, called “fugitive emissions”, escapes into the atmosphere as a potent greenhouse gas much worse than CO2, or into water to come out of taps as flammable water (I kid you not).    New York Times is reporting thousands of abandonned wells. Once they are sucked dry, the company that drilled them shifts profits to a parent campany, folds, and walks away, leaving farmland and water resources un-restorable.

And for all this, do we get jobs? cheaper gas? wealth?  No, none of them.  We get a port dredged out of the Barrier Reef with a pipline all the way to it, so the gas can be exported to markets that will pay three times the price of gas on the Australian market. Your gas bill will treble, and it has nothing to do with gas shortages, rather the opening up of a more lucrative export market at the expense of our Barrier Reef.  A three-fold hike in gas prices will cost us thousands of small businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs in industries that depend on gas.  Food prices will skyrocket as water shortages and destroyed farmland and farming communities bites.

There’s no gas shortage.  There’s enough of this stuff worldwide to fry the earth several times over, and it’s in the hands of people greedy enough to do it.

Coal Seam Gas News or Lock the Gate are good places to get informed.  If you are in Northern NSW, at Gasfield Free Northern Rivers you can register for alerts.  Somebody at the blockade last week said this is a Woodstock moment.  They were using it in a different context, but I have  I have a feeling that it is.  This one will win, and I hope I’ll be able to say, I was there.

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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Elaine de Saxe April 9, 2014, 6:29 am

    Thank you for your report, Linda. Reading about CSG from first-hand is even more horrifying than seeing a film. There’s an awful lot of greed going on and little effort by our governments to stop it. Both major parties are pro-CSG – the illusion of ‘jobs’ and ‘export income’ has them both bewitched. I wonder if the people involved both in the industry and politics have grand-children who would like to eat and drink. It sounds as though CSG-drilling might be the way we reduce our population – by mass-starvation from poisoned earth and polluted water. Rather brutal. Many people suffer and a few get to eat their money. I’ve joined Lock the Gate and while I don’t go on blockades, I do some support work. I urge everyone to do something about it however small the contribution, it will all help to raise awareness and defeat these greedy creeps.

  • Cas Smit April 9, 2014, 9:22 am

    Thank you so much for supporting the Bentley Blockade and for raising awareness about the dangers of this invasive industry. I am part of “Coonabarabran Residents Against CSG” (you can find our group on FaceBook under that name) and we are trying to stop Santos getting a toe hold in the Pilliga Forest, the largest remaining inland forest in NSW. They have plans for 850 gas wells in the Pilliga, which would be the largest gas field in NSW. They then have plans to expand this into the surrounding farmlands and areas around the towns. Santos are currently at the exploratory stage and brave men and women are locking on to the drill rig machinery and on to the huge trucks that move the drill rigs to slow down operations. There have been 12 people arrested in the last 5 days (and more in the months before this).They come from all walks of life – farmers, environmentalists, PhD holders, business analysts, grandmothers and even a Santos shareholder. The Forestry Corporation, on a request from police, has closed the forest for the whole of April in an to attempt to stop scrutiny and lock ons. This has not been effective. Last Sunday, 60 + people walked into the forest, defying the closure and taking photos. Make no mistake, this is a threat to our water, our land, our food supply, our health and our way of life. CSG industialization threatens country and city folk alike (gas companies even want to frack under the Sydney water catchments, as unbelievable as that may sound). We as Australians all need to stand together on this, no one community can do it on their own. Watch “Fractured Country”(http://www.lockthegate.org.au/films), talk to your friends, contact politicians, sign petitions, come to the blockades and actions if you can, or sign up your street or area as “Gas Field Free” (http://www.lockthegate.org.au/mining_free). I have seen first hand the alliance against this industry getting stronger and stronger every day and I really believe that “People Power” is what will stop this. We can do it! Join us!

  • Jeni at Northern Rivers Dreaming April 10, 2014, 11:37 am

    We’ve not been out to Bentley for a few days, but will be heading out again with food supplies on Saturday 🙂

  • narf7 April 11, 2014, 5:10 am

    We here in Tassie have the same thing but unlike the mainland, anyone standing up against fracking can be put in jail! I don’t care. The moment someone starts to even sniff I will be there! I hear you can get your teeth fixed in Jail and they will pay for a degree…got to look on the bright side! 😉 Kudos ma’am on your stance. I applaud you and I support you and I salute you and yours. Sending waves of appreciation and love your way along with soggy Sidmouth hugs

  • Emma April 11, 2014, 6:28 am

    Thanks heaps Linda. A really good report, simply written but packed full of info and clarity. Nice, but depressing reading. I am going down to Bentley on the weekend with my baby son and then back again a bit later with my older two children. I want them to see this happening. Thanks for all the info xx

  • Fiona April 11, 2014, 7:28 am

    I’m just wondering, what all of this gas mining is doing to the earths plates and causing earthquakes

  • Kim April 11, 2014, 3:57 pm

    A very well written post , Linda that was not sensationalist..but just factual and this really helps me if I want to explain the problems we are facing with coal seam gas but don’t quite have the words. Thinking of you all facing this head on at Bentley.I believe we can do something about these things with people power… here in the Hunter , people win , then court cases get over turned or taken back to court as the mining companies have more money to keep going-but still people fight and never give in.

  • Pat Machin April 11, 2014, 8:47 pm

    Our caring government is encouraging it over here (UK). One of our problems is that the island is so small that, if you bore a couple of kilometres, you are bound to be going under houses, schools, etc.

    There have been small earthquakes attributed to test boring but the government is in favour ~ jobs for the boys we reckon!

  • John Vernon April 14, 2014, 6:36 am

    I’m so glad you got to Bentley and wrote about the issues. Your support for the folk at the blockade is so so valuable and will certainly spread the truth about the dangers to our land from csg mining. France has banned fracking. It would be wonderful if we followed but I fear the corpocracy we live under will push, push, push until Australia is left with a ruined land and a poorer populace.

  • Cas Smit April 14, 2014, 5:35 pm

    Hope that you’re OK with this post, Linda. We have just set up a crowd funding initiative to help cover the costs of the fines that the brave folk who have been locking on in the Pilliga will incur (and those supporting them who have also been charged for being in the exclusion zone in the forest – a maximum $2,200 fine – now that would be an expensive bush walk for people just wanting to enjoy a public forest!). Two people have already been given $1500 fines – the same amount that the EPA fined Santos for contaminating the aquifer with uranium and heavy metals. Here’s the link if anyone is able to help us keep Santos and CSG mining out of the Pilliga and North West NSW: http://www.chuffed.org/project/friends-of-the-pilliga/
    The Sydney Morning Herald ran a 2 page photo essay and article in Saturday’s News section, so we are getting our message out there! The second link is 10 evocative photos by Dean Sewell, SMH photographer, some of which were used in the feature article.
    http://m.smh.com.au/nsw/up-to-their-necks-in-it-farmers-lead-coal-seam-gas-protests-by-example-20140411-36i6c.html
    http://www.smh.com.au/photogallery/national/clique/the-pilliga-state-forest-20140410-36faw.html?rand=1397218388448

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