Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

New tactics see coal seam gas protests gain the upper hand

Community coal seam gas campaigns have had some big wins lately, most recently in the suspension of the drilling licence for CSG company Metgasco in New South Wales. Referred to the Independent Commission…

Communities across eastern Australia are fighting against coal seam gas mining … and winning. Kate Ausburn/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Community coal seam gas campaigns have had some big wins lately, most recently in the suspension of the drilling licence for CSG company Metgasco in New South Wales. Referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), the decision was partly attributed to lack of community consultation.

The suspension follows large protests in March, when nearly 2,000 people turned out to blockade a CSG drill site in the same region.

The success of the campaign is perhaps an aberration, especially considering the failure of many other seemingly identical environmental campaigns, such as those aimed at halting or limiting coastal development and habitat loss through deforestation.

But the fight against CSG along the east coast of Australia is growing, and various community actions have shown further evidence of success.

In the Pilliga Forest, west of Tamworth, the ongoing actions and protests over plans to develop a CSG hub have delayed proceedings dramatically. In November last year, the Victorian government extended a moratorium on fracking until 2015. And in March, the NSW state government backed down on the granting of new CSG licences.

So why are these community campaigns winning, even if it is just in the short term?

A digital campaign

In 1982, a young Bob Brown canoed down a river and kicked off the Save the Franklin campaign, which forced governments around the country to take notice of an increasingly vocal environmental lobby.

The anti-CSG campaign is a demonstration of how different things have become in the world of community protest.

Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are changing the way communities campaign Jason Howie/Flickr, CC BY

A quick search on Facebook reveals more than 20 eastern Australian anti-CSG sites, including CSG-Rescue NSW, CSG Free Gippsland, Youth Against CSG and Stop CSG Sydney Water Catchment.

A posting on the Bentley protest Facebook site at 4.06pm on Tuesday 6 May read: “Titan rig 3. Headed to Bentley”, revealing the power of social media to provide people with up-to-date information on events of relevance to their protest.

This shows how social media and smart phones are at the heart of the anti-CSG campaign. Facebook, Twitter and Flickr link a vast array of websites, portals, information access points and events.

The campaign is also not just “local” as such, but national and international. Activity in other states, and in places such as the USA have been informing the various Australian campaigns.

Australian efforts to extract coal seam gas affect a large section of the country, and specifically those areas where coal has been mined since the 1830s. This extends from Queensland, through New South Wales and Victoria and on into Tasmania. The campaign is also one of the most professionally run Australia has seen, with a mix of public fundraising, self-financed promotion, public protest events, media reportage, printed information (posters, pamphlets, t-shirts), websites, and organisation through numerous local committees.

The Stop CSG Illawarra campaign and website is a good example of this, with long-time campaigners and community activists involved. In New South Wales the campaign around the area to the south and west of Sydney has, since 2011, proven extremely successful in garnering community support and influencing government decision making. The current activity at Bentley, is a continuation of this.

Because of the growth in social media, groups no longer rely on traditional media such as local newspapers, television and radio to spread their message and mobilise people.

People all across Australia, from Queensland to Tasmania, are affected by coal seam gas. Kate Ausburn/Flickr, CC BY

Unusual allies

CSG exploration and extraction effects a wide demographic, ranging from farmers and country folk through to city and non-urban coastal dwellers. People from across the political spectrum have found themselves part of the campaign, whether they be aligned with the conservative right, the radical left or are indifferent.

The Lock the Gate Alliance uses grassroots community engagement to stop unrestrained access to properties from CSG mining companies. The work of the group has opened the eyes of many Australians to the fact that mining rights are separate from property rights – the state owns the mineral wealth of the land, and can therefore grant permission for exploration and mining both below and above ground, regardless of the opposition of the landowner.

In the past this has not been an issue, as large scale coal mining has either existed deep below ground - with little or no impact on landowners - or mining companies have purchased land in and around open cut mining areas, thus eliminating opposition to extraction.

With CSG, the process is different. It is short term – the companies seek permits to explore and then extract for as long as the gas flows. After this the extraction firm and their equipment move on, leaving behind refuse and waste from the process, with extremely worrying claims of contaminated aquifers and water supplies.

This portability of CSG mining is one of its attractions to investors and operators, but it is also one of the reasons the campaign against it has been different to so many other environmental campaigns of recent years.

Farmers “Lock the Gate” to coal seam gas companies Lock the Gate Alliance/Flickr, CC BY

The NSW Southern Highlands has traditionally been blue ribbon Liberal in its voting patterns at all levels of government. But now we are seeing farmers and large property holders in the area take an active part in the Lock the Gate Alliance. Slogans such as “Australians uniting to protect our land and water”, “Protect our national foodbowl” and “Water not Coal”, reflect the involvement of both city and country constituencies, something not often seen before.

Only time will tell whether these community groups will ultimately be successful. What is obvious though, is that the anti-CSG movement has created a very different type of community campaigning.

Articles also by This Author

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

34 Comments sorted by

  1. Suzy Gneist
    Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

    Thanks for the article. I have been looking at the development of new community models within these movements, particularly because they cross several ideological lines yet unify people. It is an exercise in participatory democracy and cooperation in my view, build on similar recent movements and experiences, like the original OWS initiative, as well as older environmental campaigns.
    The difference, i think, lies in the fact that the reaction is not only in defence of an iconic natural location but in defence of the physical landscape that supports extensive social fabrics, relationships and resources. This is personal to so many more people than just a few activists willing to travel. The Bentley Blockade has the support of those who live there as well as those who are just like those who live there - of which there are many.

    report
  2. John Newlands

    tree changer

    Federal Industry Minister Macfarlane claimed that NSW would run out of gas by 2016. That suggests that developers should offer better deals to land owners. Part of the gas supply problem is because much of the gas burned in NSW came from outback SA and Qld but that can now get top dollar going to the Gladstone Qld LNG plants. Absent serious carbon constraints that could mean a return to coal for power generation with the closure of the Swanbank gas fired power station an early sign.

    Thus it seems we're heading for an 'irresistible force meets immovable object' scenario. Perhaps a few land owners will cave in (metaphorically speaking) with better offers for gas drilling then there will discontent at returning to solid coal or with higher power prices.

    report
    1. grant moule

      Consultant

      In reply to Michael Shand

      I agree, it's simply an argument to make even more profits by opening new CSG areas. This and the governments refusal to see that reserving some gas for domestic use especially manufacturing would actually be a good thing for Australia (as in done in many other countries).

      report
    2. John Newlands

      tree changer

      In reply to Michael Shand

      When I last read BREE's annual bulletin I seem to recall gas exports (LNG) and domestic consumption (piped gas) were about 20 Mt each however the plan was to get LNG to 60 Mtpa overtaking Qatar. I guesstimate if most of Australia's truck and buses converted from diesel to CNG that could use another 10 Mt here. Before Gladstone nearly all gas export (NG not propane) was from WA with one proposal to use a shipboard LNG plant so the gas never sees our soil.

      My hunch is that east coast gas users are holding their breath for a major tantrum once Gladstone LNG starts exporting. It all says leave plenty of gas in the ground or save it for later.

      report
    3. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to John Newlands

      We can only hope, however business lives on capitalisation of assets, leaving reserves in the ground doesn't seem to jive with business

      report
    4. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Newlands

      "....Federal Industry Minister Macfarlane claimed that NSW would run out of gas by 2016....."

      This claim has always perplexed me. I know that my BBQ gas bottle will run out of gas some time in 2014 - but I will probably just go down to the hardware store and buy some more.

      Can't NSW just buy more gas? Why does it have to dig it up? Does every state and every country have to dig up their own gas, or do they go out and buy some when they need it as well?

      report
    5. wilma western

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Good question especially when new gas wells have opened in Bass Strait and there are pipeline links - though these might need extension.

      report
    6. Sean Douglas

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Maybe this will point you a good direction to research: NSW etc has been getting gas from Moomba and Moonie since the 60s, and those fields are at end of life. That gas is used in homes as well in some industries who can only use gas for some activities. NSW had a choice between allowing business to purchase gas from new QLD CSG where qld gets the mining royalties, or do their own CSG mining. The high majority of CSG in NSW is projected / earmarked for Exports after NSW needs were met. International…

      Read more
    1. Ross Barrell

      Aikido Student

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      One Qld community actually got the Newman Government to block a major coal mining and CSG venture in the Felton Valley (eastern Darling Downs). Have a look here:

      http://www.fof.org.au/index.php?id=4176

      Took a lot of work, but this group now has plenty of expertise dealing with government and big fossil fuel.

      report
    2. Ross Barrell

      Aikido Student

      In reply to Ross Barrell

      And not only that but a brief look at their Renewable Energy page reveals this:

      Friends of Felton has commissioned renewable energy consultant Trevor Berrill to undertake a study of the potential for renewable energy generation at Felton as an alternative to coal mining development.

      The report shows that the Felton Valley has high levels of solar radiation (higher than southern Spain) and promising sites for wind generation. Potential renewable generation capacity exceeds 700MW.

      http://www.fof.org.au/index.php?id=6734

      report
  3. catherine mcdonald

    logged in via Twitter

    I'm really glad to see the success of this campaign. I was beginning to lose all hope. Our governments (of both persuasions) no longer represent the real interests of people. Unless people start standing up for themselves we will be one big waste land .. being exported to elsewhere.

    report
  4. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    I always love it when conservatives have to put their tail between their legs, drop their supposed values and stand up for the environment

    report
    1. Michael Lenehan

      retired

      In reply to Michael Shand

      And it's even more fun forces when the conservatives have to join forces with local young Communists from the Gong's Socialist Alliance because they are so much better at environmental activism than the conservatives - for at least the members of Wollongong's Socialist Alternative went to the right schools and were taught how to protest properly.

      report
  5. Doug Hutcheson

    Poet

    "the extraction firm and their equipment move on, leaving behind refuse and waste from the process" - wastes (including GHGs) are called 'externalities', which must be ignored in the pursuit of profits. Just ask Phoney Tony and the Billy Tea Party.

    report
  6. Chris Williams

    Stop CSG Illawarra organiser

    Thanks for this article Michael, the stop CSG campaign has shown communities can stand up to the power of industry and win :-) The examples of Bentley and the Illawarra (where we’ve knocked back the local CSG project for now) show people organising together can deliver democratic outcomes better than the politicians. While it’s true that Stop CSG Illawarra (SCSGI) has made impressive use of social media, the campaign is also heavily reliant on old school tactics such as door knocking and community…

    Read more
  7. Pat Moore

    gardener

    Acknowledgement should be given to Drew Hutton, formerly of the Queensland Greens for the Lock the Gate Alliance, though there is a photo of him in your link to this. His years of selfless, passionate and dedicated work got this grass roots movement off the ground and rolling through all the potential gasfields, the land and homes the corporations want to lay to waste for profit.

    report
    1. Georgina Byrne
      Georgina Byrne is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer at Farming

      In reply to Pat Moore

      Maybe this is the light at the end of the tunnel after all...only when ordinary people from all age groups and walks of life band together for the common good, is there a chance that the planet may be saved...or rather kept habitable for the species, including ours, which currently reside on it. Not much chance, but some. It is a sad sad story from the Leard though. A bit like the report on koalas and other arboreal wildlife destroyed during harvesting of plantation eucalypts. Sometimes there is just too much disappointing news but I for one can't resist the glimmer of hope provided by so much information from so many intelligent, caring people which appears on this site, both above and below the line. Fingers crossed that Getup, Lock the Gate and others continue to garner support and find success, one paddock at a time!

      report
  8. Luke Weston

    Physicist / electronic engineer

    "A quick search on Facebook reveals more than 20 eastern Australian anti-CSG sites"

    Well, perhaps. But I'm sure you could also find dozens of anti-vaccination, anti-fluoridation or anti-chemtrails pages on Facebook or on the Web more generally. That doesn't necessarily mean there are any credible facts or any rational case or evidence presented against the technology on any of those pages.

    report
    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Luke Weston

      No Luke, that's correct.

      But it also does not mean they are wrong either. And your attempt to associate anti-CSG with anti-vaxx or chemtrail nonsense shows that you aren't interested in facts or rational cases either.

      report
    2. Steve Phillips

      Nurse Practitioner

      In reply to Luke Weston

      Anti-fracking is pretty close to those nutjob groups you cite. The evidence is mounting that the claims made by these 'pro protesters' is bunkum and fabricated. FrackNation is worth watching.

      report
  9. Steve Phillips

    Nurse Practitioner

    Disseminating lies is not campaigning no matter how smart it seems. Most of the bs spread by the anti-everything crowd about fracking and gas have been debunked but still they persist.
    I don't want to see coal mining continue because of the actions of a bunch of ignoramuses who cannot be bother to test the veracity of their claims.

    report
    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Steve Phillips

      Yeah Steve. I always get my science from climate change deniers funded by astro-turf organisations backed by the fossil fuel industry.

      You might want to take some of your own advice and test the veracity of their claims. As you rightly point out, disseminating lies is not campaigning.

      report
    2. Michael Organ

      Manager - Repository Services at University of Wollongong

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      I note that in 2011 the US EPA found dangerous levels of benzene from a fracking well had entered a Wyoming aquifer (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/epa-finds-fracking-compound-wyoming-aquifer/). They warned residents "not to drink or cook with the water and to ventilate their homes when they showered", and subsequently drilled the monitoring wells to get a more precise picture of the extent of the contamination. A report in the scientific journal Nature in 2012 noted the EPA findings and rejection of the claims by industry groups, along with an absence of concensus amongst the academic community. The Precautionary Principle is definitely applicable in this instance.

      report
  10. Stuart Wales

    logged in via Facebook

    If there's one law the fracking industry observes it's Murphy's which states that if anything can possibly go wrong, it will. Here in Lismore where Bentley is there were 7000, 1000, more? Folk ready to stop this rig. 2 years ago we stopped it a Kerrong nearby & couldn't believe they came back! Last council election we held a referendum, 87% were against, now that's 95%. Across the state farmers are 80% against. Next state election may run on a single issue. The gas industry is now running a promotional campaign, but it's a joke, with no hope of success at all & why would it? Several states of the US have banned frack mining, so has France!

    report
    1. Robert John

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Stuart Wales

      France produces 75% of its electricity using nuclear power. Is that what you want?

      report
    2. robin linke

      stamp dealer

      In reply to Robert John

      Robert, You have made a good point. Many countries in Europe have a combination of Nuclear and hydro which is safe efficient and clean. . They are advanced countries with a high level of technology. Germany was a good example but the threatened sabotage of state govts (Lande) by the Greens has forced this change on the Federal Govt...........a salient warning for us not to sup with the Greens.

      report
  11. robin linke

    stamp dealer

    Michael Organ fails to explain the advantages of CSG. The public deserve two points of view given the article is published on the public purse with the imprimatur of the University of Woolongong. .

    I understand CSG has lower carbon emissions, The US has greatly decreased its dependence on coal and Middle East oil. Australia would have similar benefits as well plus lucrative exports which we badly need,

    Does the University system in Australia recognize the public's right to balanced information and argument?

    report
    1. Michael McNamara

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to robin linke

      The claim is often made about CSG having "lower carbon emissions". Methane, at the point of burning, has lower emissions than coal. The key words there are "at the point of burning"!

      One issue the industry and governments are reluctant to acknowledge or confront is that of "fugitive emissions". These fugitive emissions mean just that - methane that escapes during the process of extracting, storing and transporting it. These emissions have a carbon impact up to 30 times more than coal.

      But emissions are only one issue that causes concern.

      Safety, health, water and toxic contamination all rank as major issues of concern.

      There is, I believe, an element of cognitive dissonance behind the stance of various governments in relation to CSG and other unconventional gas developments. They don't want to see the evidence and will accept the companies' assurances that all is "A-OK" in preference.

      report
    2. robin linke

      stamp dealer

      In reply to Michael McNamara

      The issues for Australia as I understand them are:
      1) to provide base load power cheaply 24/7
      2) to generate exports any way we can
      3) as we contribute 1.3% of global emissions therefore whatever we do is not significant globally.
      4) as I said there is massive development of CGU in the US and other countries with huge
      benefits to them and they would not sanction this if it was dangerous.
      5) There is no unanimous consensus that climate change is predictable .eg Germany is building about…

      Read more