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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Joe Hinchliffe

Queensland government considers lease extensions at the site of anti-CSG blockade

Supplied aerial photo of anti-coal seam gas protestors displaying a 'Water not Gas' banner on the Scenic Rim, south of Brisbane and behind the Gold Coast, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011.
Anti-coal seam gas protestors displaying a 'Water not Gas' banner in the Scenic Rim in 2011. A recently released report has some locals asking, ‘Do we start preparing for that all over again?’ Photograph: Andrew Peacock/PR image

More than decade on since a coal-seam gas-driven battle over land in Queensland’s Scenic Rim began, applications to extend a resources company’s leases at the site have quietly emerged through an innocuously titled report.

The area boasts some of the best farmland in the state’s south-east, and was named among Lonely Planet’s Top 10 regional destinations in 2022, yet the community had no idea of the applications – lodged more than three years ago – until last month.

Anti-CSG campaigners claim it shows the Queensland government’s “incredibly opaque” approval process for gas exploration.

The Underground Water Impact Report for Authority to Prospect 644 report was published on the public notices page of Arrow Energy – a joint venture subsidiary of Shell and PetroChina – on 1 March.

It referred to a CSG prospecting tenement in the Kerry Valley, the site of a protest blockade in 2012, which saw nine people arrested and led to Arrow capping its exploration wells in the Scenic Rim.

So when the report was brought to the attention of Mount Barney Lodge owner Innes Larkin, his first thought was: “Here we go again.”

Larkin was among those arrested and a spearhead for the Keep the Scenic Rim Scenic movement that led that fight a decade ago.

“In my head I’m like, ‘Right, do we start preparing for that all over again?’” Larkin said.

“Honestly, the truth is, I’d rather run my tourism business and guide people into world heritage national parks.”

Arrow lodged “potential commercial area” applications over its two tenements in the Scenic Rim shortly before they expired on 1 March 2018 and 2 October 2019. Those applications have been quietly sitting with the Department of Resources, ensuring the tenements remained live.

Lock the Gate Alliance helped organise the Kerry Blockade, and its Queensland coordinator, Ellie Smith, said many opponents to CSG in the Scenic Rim thought they had prevailed.

“Most people … thought that it was all done and dusted,” Smith said.

Scenic Rim’s mayor, Greg Christensen, was also under that impression. On Monday he told the Beaudesert Times that the mines would not proceed on “his watch”. He said it was a phone call from an Australian Associated Press journalist last month that brought the issue to his attention.

Arrow has previously said it has no immediate plans to develop the tenements and “if that situation changed, Arrow would, as part of our process, consult local government ahead of any development plans changing”.

Christensen said it raised the question about why the company would want to keep hold of them.

“The only conclusion is that there’s something in the structure of their business that they see merit in hanging on to them,” he said.

Until the department makes a decision, Larkin said a cloud of uncertainty will remain.

“The community clearly opposes this and we are saying that we want stability, we want to know we’ve got control of our future,” he said.

The department would not say when it would make a decision on the applications, but stressed there was “no application for production of gas resources in these tenements”.

“Arrow Energy is seeking renewal of two permits in the Scenic Rim which only allow for exploration activities such as geological and geophysical studies and seismic reprocessing,” a spokesperson said.

Smith said those opposed to the CSG in the Scenic Rim would take cold comfort from these words.

The campaigner said communities were constantly told not to worry about a mining proposal until it was slated to enter production.

“At that point, it’s too late,” she said. “[The company] committed, they’ve invested money and years of effort … it’s impossible to stop. So communities who want to stop these projects need to do it at the exploration phase, which is what the Scenic Rim community thought they had done.”

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