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Friday, 10 May 2013 14:09

Stop until it's safe

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This is the message Debbie Orr  wants to send to the CSG Industry and to the State and Federal Governments. Debbie lives with her family on an estate on the outskirts of Tara, a small town on the Western Downs of Queensland.

Sitting, having a tea or coffee with her neighbour Michael Bretherick, we are discussing their situation of being surrounded by CSG gas wells, pipelines for carrying the gas and a condensation gas plant. Members of their community have suffered illnesses such as headaches, nosebleeds  skin rashes and other minor complaints. They believe that these are occurring because of the impact of the CSG industry on their doorstep. Michael has now begun to have nosebleeds so he has firsthand experience of the health issues confronting other members of his community, including children. These two have been campaigning for  a better understanding of the impacts of the CSG mining on the health of people, on the soil, on the water and on the environment in general. 

Debbie and Michael are two of the founding members of the Gasfield Community Support Group. They see solidarity as an important way that people, like themselves, can confront the issues arising from living in a gasfield. Michael spends much of his time researching the history, the workings, the investments of the mining companies checking their credentials. He would love to see a global solidarity movement that unmasks some of the unjust workings of mining companies throughout the world. However, Debbie is more focussed on her community. She simply asks for assurances from the companies involved in CSG mining that it is safe to undertake their operations close to where families are living.

Queensland Health has released a report on the impact of CSG on the health of the Tara community. This was compiled after a doctor was sent to Tara to examine anyone who was complaining of health issues that they perceived to be connected with the introduction of CSG mining into their community. Very few people attended the clinic which lasted for 2 days after one week’s notice. Debbie indicated that many people were away at the time and despite trying to advertise it widely, the turn up was disappointing.  The  report stated that there was no definite correlation between the symptoms found in those the doctor saw and the onset of mining. However, there has been no baseline testing done, so there can be no comparison between what is appearing now and what was present before the drilling began. 

As a part of this investigation  Queensland Health had air samples examined for any substances that could have contributed to the symptoms experienced by members of the community. They reported that all substances tested  were within accepted levels. However, a second scientific laboratory criticised this conclusion. They found that benzene levels were above the levels set for health criteria. The Queensland Health report dismissed this because they claimed that benzene is naturally occurring and does not occur in coal seam gas. This contradicts information on the Queensland Environment and Heritage website that states that benzene along with other compounds is found in coal seam gas.

The health of the people living in this small community not only suffers from the symptoms mentioned above. They also suffer from living with uncertainty, with not being believed and with feeling as if their concerns are ignored. Their concerns are being raised by more people, including lawyers and Church groups. We, at the Social Justice Commission of the Diocese of Toowoomba, are prepared to stand by them, advocate on their behalf and raise their concerns in forums to which we have access. We support them in their plea for assurances of safety, in their appeal that there be a moratorium on the drilling until this assurance can be given.