March 06, 2012

Global Action Lived Locally: A case study from Australia

The abuses of the extractive industries are a major issue for Sisters of Mercy in many countries. In previous issues of e news we outlined the struggles of communities with the gold mining industry in Peru which is responsible for contaminating the water supply with their extraction methods. Problems concerning hydrofracking in the USA, Canada, Ireland and England were raised. In this issue we are examining the coal seam gas mining industry in Australia.

Deirdre Gardiner rsm and Carmel Heagerty rsm report from Australia on the worries expressed by communities in their country with coal seam gas mining and the potential impacts that this industry will have on water security, food production, the environment and health. They are asking sisters, partners and associates to write to their local politicians asking them to take account of the concerns raised.

Coal Seam Gas Mining

Water security concerns:

  • large amounts of water are used in the extraction of the gas
  • waste water from the process contains large amounts of salt
  • the artesian base may be contaminated by the process

Food production concerns:

  • mining is happening on good cropping soil
  • the mining interrupts the use of farming land
  • use of and impact of chemicals on the soil makes it unsuitable for farming
  • degradation of and devaluation of farming properties
  • eventual impact on Australia’s food production and valuable export industries of beef and wine

Environmental concerns:

  • gas leaks of methane into the environment increase carbon pollution
  • chemical leakage contaminates the land
  • chemicals used in the fracking process can cause contamination

Health concerns:

  • reports from the USA identify many health issues in areas of high intensity coal seam gas production
  • some local areas are already expressing health concerns (nose bleeds, headaches)
  • mental health issues could result from the stress of loss of land and livelihood

Learn more about the Australian coal seam gas industry and what those affected are saying

The ABC has produced the most comprehensive map of Australia's coal seam gas activities to date: (

Some of the main points made in this program include:

Extraction: Coal seam gas, 98% methane, is extracted by drilling down to the coal seam. The average wells in Queensland are 600 metres in depth.The drilling may pass through the aquifers used for drinking water and irrigation.

‘Fracking’: This process is sometimes used and involves water and chemicals being pumped into the coal seam, which creates a network of cracks in the coal, releasing the gas and water trapped inside

Water Content: One of the most contentious issues around coal seam gas is its thirst for water, and what impact this might have on the aquifers of the Great Artesian Basin and stream flows in the Murray Darling Basin. Agricultural industries rely on underground water supplies in the Great Artesian Basin, which lies under some of the most productive farming areas in Australia.

As the water flows out of cracks in the coal, the gas trapped inside is released. A mixture of water and gas flows to the surface, where the water and gas are separated and sent for processing. The water is very salty and may contain toxic chemicals from the fracturing process, as well as those naturally present in the coal seam.

The National Water Commission estimates the use of 300 gigalitres of water each year. This suggests that 31 million tonnes of salt will be produced over 30 years.

What some of the locals are saying.

Reflecting on the impact of coal seam gas mining using Catholic Social Teaching

The Principle of Care for Creation

Coal seam gas extraction puts water availability and purity at risk.

All mining activities need to answer questions about environmental concerns. One of the major issues with CSG is the use of large amounts of water. Water is one of the most important resources of the planet. It is also rich in religious symbolism. We take care of water by ensuring both its preservation and its quality.

The Principle of the Common Good

At a reflection point in the grounds of Metta Karana Reflection Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia, visitors are invited to draw water from a well. When the bucket arrives at the surface, the water is pouring out of holes in the sides of the bucket. A reflective process is then entered into about water belonging to all people, not just to those who own the well. In many parts of the world, water is being viewed as a commodity to be sold, depriving those who depend on that water for their survival. In Australia, The Great Artesian Basin is a resource that has been providing water for much of the drier parts of this continent since the first bore was struck in the late 19th century. Risking contamination or severe reduction of the available aquifers leaves future generations deprived of this resource.

If much of the good cropping land is taken over by CSG mining, then the amount of food produced will be greatly reduced in a time of world food shortages.

The theme chosen for the Day: "Food Prices: From Crisis to Stability," invites us to reflect on the importance of the different factors that can give people and communities essential resources, beginning with agricultural work, which must not be considered as a secondary activity, but as the objective of every strategy of growth and integral development. This is still more important if we keep in mind that the availability of foods is increasingly conditioned by the volatility of prices and sudden climatic changes. We observe at the same time a continuous abandonment of rural areas with a global decline in agricultural production and, hence, in food reserves. Moreover, spreading everywhere, unfortunately, is the idea that food is just one more merchandise and, hence, also subject to speculative movement.

Pope Benedict’s Message for World Food Day 2011

The Principle of Participation

The principle of participation can refer to the need for all of earth’s creatures to participate in discussions involving harm to any creature.In light of our broadened sense of the earth community, our call for participation must go beyond the demands of our human community to ensure that the rights of the natural world are also represented at the table.

Maryknoll Office for Global Concern: page 3.

The Principle of Accountability

This principle calls for all those involved in issues that may have ethical consequences to make a full disclosure of all information. In the CSG debates, there is concern that the companies are not sufficiently up front with information regarding their use of chemicals and their thorough investigation into the environmental effects of their processes. This principle also calls on those who are concerned about the effects of the process to keep pressure on the companies for full disclosure.

Please take action

The Sisters of Mercy of Australia have been asking their contacts to write to decision makers with their concerns about the mining industry. Sisters and associates in other countries could write similar letters to their Ministers, Members and Councillors, google their name or title Possible points to make:

  • Ask what assurances are in place to preserve and conserve our water and soil from any adverse effects from Gas/oil exploration and mining
  • Express concern about possible contamination due to the extraction process
  • Express concern that the water being used in extraction takes away from the availability of water for farming purposes.
  • Possible contamination of soil from chemicals used in extraction
  • Concern that good cropping land is being disrupted by having oil wells on the farm land
  • The disruption to farming because of the extra roads, oil wells, traffic and pipelines on the property
  • Difficulty of farmers finding workers when the gas companies pay high wages
  • Division being caused in country towns due to the promise of prosperity from the extraction industry and the possible loss of livelihood for farming families
  • Concerns about what to do with the salty water that is brought to the surface in the extraction process

Messages to : Carmel Heagerty RSM, Institute Justice Co-ordinator.

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