(EnergyAsia, January 16 2012, Monday) — A local council in Australia’s resource-rich Queensland state has been slammed for “political grandstanding” for trying to ban coal and coal-seam gas (CSG) developments.

Queensland Resources Council (QRC) said a ban would mean that Somerset Regional Council’s 22,500 residents would have to give up the economic benefits of the state’s long-term multi-billion-dollar boom in coal and CSG projects.

As part of a growing global unease towards CSG activities, Somerset recently became the first council in Queensland to attempt to impose a moratorium on CSG projects within its boundaries.

Residents, farmers and environmental groups in the US, Europe and Australia said the hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ method of producing gas from unconventional sources have led to chemical poisoning of drinking water and caused minor earthquakes in their neighbourhoods.

The protests have grown in recent years as more companies use fracking to produce natural gas by injecting chemicals at high pressure into tight rock formations deep in the earth. Some of the chemicals end up in water aquifers while repeated high-pressure injections to break up rocks and soil to free up trapped gas have destabilised local geological formations.
In criticising the Somerset council, QRC CEO Michael Roche said:

“The minerals and energy resources under the ground belong to the people of Queensland and we elect state governments to make decisions on the best use of those resources for the benefit of all Queenslanders.

“One of those benefits is the payment of royalties to the state government by minerals and energy producers and this year the forecast dividend to every Queenslander is A$540. We must assume as a result of Somerset Regional Council’s announcement that it has factored in losing its per capita share of state royalties, estimated at A$1.2 million this year.” (US$1=A$0.97).

Mr Roche said mining and gas companies employ 150 people and inject A$17 million worth of spending power in the Somerset region.

“Mining and gas companies also buy A$7 million worth of goods and services from Somerset businesses, which in turn means that over 400 local jobs depend directly and indirectly on these industries,” he said.

Citing the long-term environmental and health uncertainties surrounding CSG mining, Somerset mayor Graeme Lehmann said: “It is just not worth the risk.”

He said the local ecosystems were part of the water catchments for the Somerset and Wivenhoe Dams that fed into Brisbane city.

He called on the Queensland state government to support Somerset’s decision on the moratorium and to assure the people that their health and water supply will be protected from CSG mining.

Somerset’s call is unlikely to be accepted as Queensland state has emerged as one of the world’s largest centres for producing CSG to be converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export to Asia.