Australia has large coal seam gas (CSG) reserves in Queensland and New South Wales, primarily in the Surat and Bowen Basins in Queensland, with the remainder mostly in NSW. In the last several years investment in CSG has increased, and four major CSG projects have been developed to increase LNG export. It is estimated that in the Surat and Bowen Basins alone over the next 20 years, 20,000-40,000 wells could be drilled. Shale gas exploration has only recently begun in Australia and so far there has been no commercial production, but exploration activity has significantly increased in the last few years, particularly in the Cooper Basin and Canning Basin. It is estimated that recoverable shale resources could be as large as 396 trillion cubic feet (tcf), roughly double Australia’s current gas reserves. Tight gas resources are estimated to be comparatively small, but exploration has begun, including in Victoria. Communities in Queensland and New South Wales have started strong grassroots campaigns against current and proposed onshore gas projects.
Previously, operations in Victoria have been on a very small scale, but a massive expansion is imminent. The Minerals Council of Australia declared in a recent inquiry submission that ‘there is enormous potential for Coal Seam Methane (CSG) industry in Victoria’. Melbourne sits between two major gas basins. To the east the gas basin extends right throughout Gippsland, and to the west the Otway Basin extends all the way to the South Australian border.
The Victorian Government has effectively given the green light for mining corporations to explore and exploit vast tracks of land throughout the state. Despite the moratorium on fracking, exploration licenses have been approved over tens of thousands of hectares where the sole purpose of exploration is unconventional gas mining, which often involves fracking. The licences cover areas which numerous Victorians live in: agricultural areas, sites of Aboriginal importance, people’s homes.
Unconventional gas exploration licenses have been issued across Victoria, including in: the Otway Basin in Western Victoria; the Gippsland Basin, including in the Wellington Shire, the Latrobe Shire, Baw Baw Shire, Cardinia Shire, Bass Coast Shire and South Gippsland Shire; and Ganawarra Shire in north-western Victoria (see maps below). Gippsland in particular is under threat, with hundreds of hectares of land covered by coal seam gas, tight gas and shale gas exploration licenses.
Collectively, these licenses cover an enormous chunk of the state, affecting hundreds of different communities, vast areas of prime farmland and precious ecosystems.
The companies involved have an appalling track record when it comes to protecting local communities and the land from potentially devastating consequences.