As U.S. communities in states like North Dakota and Colorado struggle against a growing hydraulic fracking industry, Australia has become home to its own booming industry — one that has threatened wildlife habitats in its northeastern state of Queensland and the western state of New South Wales and created tension between residents and the oil industry.
In Australia, oil companies have the right to mine in areas deemed valuable to the industry, regardless of whether that property is owned — and enjoyed — by residents.
And it seems the oil industry has no plans to halt its land grabs and environmentally destructive practices as it has already made deals worth $100 billion to supply nations throughout the world, according to a recent report by 60 Minutes Australia.
While those in the industry tout employment as a major reason for expansion, citing 18,000 new jobs, the environmental and health concerns related to the industry are growing — creating a large voice in opposition to an industry that is moving ahead full throttle.
In 2012, Australian environmental researchers released a report showing greenhouse gas levels near Australian fracking sites. The report, released by Southern Cross University in 2012, showed the presence of methane, carbon dioxide and “other compounds” at rates three times higher than “normal background levels.”
“The concentrations here are higher than any measured in gas fields anywhere else that I can think of, including in Russia,” biochemist Damien Maher, who helped with the study, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Tara oil fields in Queensland are specifically addressed in the report. The rural town of 819 residents, a farming community, was initially supportive of the expansive oil production in and near its community. Now, the tune has changed, with residents citing health concerns related to contaminated water, air pollution and overall disruption to their farming operations.
In 2011, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines began monitoring oil wells in the town after receiving complaints from residents reporting leaks. Throughout Queensland, the department inspected 2,719 wells. The report came back with news that five well sites were recognized as a flammable risk, with an additional 29 sites in flammable range. Thirty-four leaks were fixed. Still, the department said there was no harm to the public.
But for people actually living there, this just doesn’t add up — not for health, and not for farming. At a townhall meeting 16 kilometers down the road in Western Downs, residents gathered to voice concerns, citing spills discovered in their dams and concerns over water contamination. A 60 Minutes Australia report of the meeting shows a packed house of opposition and a mayor in support of the practice. Industry representatives were not present.
“We’re concerned about the future of this area. we won’t have an area in 20-30 years once this mining has come and taken what it wants,” one local resident said at the meeting.
Resident after resident illustrated the anger and frustration among those living in the midst of a battle against oil giants — one they just can’t win in the current system that provides oil companies with the land grabbing power.
Faced with concerns over contamination found in their own backyard, residents are recognizing a threat to their way of life and to future generations. As one resident summed up: “This is the biggest single issue that we’ve seen in this country — ever.”
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