Our Work Health & Energy Narrabri Coal Seam Gas and Public Health Conference

Narrabri Coal Seam Gas and Public Health Conference

All talks from the conference are available as videos via this link – go to speaker profiles and click on their name to access their specific video

On 15-16th August 2018 DEA members from NSW (Dr John Van Der Kallen and Dr Helen Redmond) and Qld (Dr Geralyn McCarron and Professor Melissa Haswell) travelled to the north-west inland town of Narrabri to attend and speak at a Coal Seam Gas and Public Health Conference organised and chaired by North West Protection Advocacy. Narrabri Shire is the site of the Narrabri Gas Project of Santos, an 850 well coal seam gas field in the final stages of approval. Helen, Geralyn and Melissa all spoke at the conference, together with Shay Dougall and Dr Methuen Morgan. The audience included local townsfolk, farmers from surrounding regions and members of the Kamilaroi people. 

The Narrabri area is already host to the Maules Creek open cut coal mine in the Laird state forest, and also the Narrabri long wall underground mine, and another open cut mine in Boggabri. Whilst opinion in surrounding shires is overwhelmingly against the CSG going ahead, Narrabri itself has remained generally supportive. 

DEA was represented at the conference by Dr Helen Redmond who covered all the basics of unconventional gas and health, and explained exactly why DEA has opposed unconventional gas development for over 7 years. Dr Geralyn McCarron followed with a presentation of her paper analysing air emission data from the Queensland CSG fields from the National Pollutants Inventory alongside hospitalisations in the area from 2007 to 2014. The trajectory of increased air emissions from CSG is dramatic especially since 2010. And these are only the emissions the companies have reported. Pictures of the infrastructure and construction of the gas fields in Queensland tells a story of heavy industrialisation, clearing of vegetation, and massive holding ponds of contaminated water. About 6500 CSG wells are there now, 4,400 are active, 850 have been fracked. The Condamine River continues to bubble.

Shay Dougall, QLD gasfield resident, OHSE professional and landholder advocate, has been in contact with 30 families living in the Queensland gas fields throughout their development. She spoke of presenting evidence to the Australian Tribunal into Human Rights Impacts of Unconventional Gas and detailed the OHSE issues imported onto farms by the gas company, exposing farmers to issues that are not to do with their own business, for which they are unprepared and unsupported, just one example of the injustice of gas field development.

Dr Methuen Morgan discussed his doctoral research into the effects of CSG on farmer’s mental health – published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology – which found clear and distinct impacts from CSG in addition to the other major stressors such as drought and financial worries. 

Professor Melissa Haswell finished with describing what a valid and complete health impact assessment of the industry would actually look like, highlighting the inadequacy of the CSIRO GISERA scoping work published so far, reiterating concerns of long term health impacts, and underlining climate impacts. DEA has been calling for independent health impact assessment of the industry since 2011, and we are still waiting.

The conference was opened with a welcome to country by members of the local Kamilaroi people. Members of the Kamilaroi community spoke eloquently during the Q and A session of the personal and spiritual impact of coal and gas development. 13 sacred and burial sites in the Laird forest have been destroyed by the Maules Creek mine. The mental health impacts on indigenous people of these developments has not been studied but was palpable to all present.

DEA visited the general practices in Narrabri and Boggabri the following day, speaking to all the GP’s in the area about our concerns and leaving detailed information. DEA will continue to assist the communities directly impacted by this proposed development with accurate and evidence based information regarding health risks, community and social impacts, and the risk to our climate. We will continue to advocate for all unconventional gas to be left underground.