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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts

Coal seam gas development in Queensland

E&OE Transcript
Interview with Jane Paterson
ABC Queensland Country Hour
15 July 2010

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JANE PATERSON: First though in shades of the failed Traveston Dam project, Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett has weighed into the debate over the development of coal seam gas mines on the Darling Downs.

Mr Garrett has given British Gas and Santos three months to provide revised environmental impact statements for projects that would extract coal seam gas on the Downs, pipe it to Gladstone and then convert it to liquefied natural gas for export. Mr Garrett's intervention has farm groups opposed to the gas industry cheering after the projects were given State Government approval in the past month. The Minister says he's impressed with the information provided by these companies so far but wants more assurances on issues like ground water and solidity.

GARRETT: There are a number of areas that I think require additional information and material to come through. Some that were identified in the Coordinator-General's report, that's the Queensland Coordinator-General report, and they relate to issues around impacts on ground water, questions around downstream impacts on salinity and the like.

We also haven't as yet received the final environmental impact assessment concerning the potential bundling of facilities that go across from Gladstone to Curtis Island themselves. I have to satisfy myself under the Act both of likely impact and if there is identified impact whether it can be mitigated against by way of conditions or otherwise.

I think the key thing in all of this is the public expectation that we will do a thorough and appropriate and rigorous evaluation of proposals particularly of this size and scale and that we will not rush those proposals.

JANE PATERSON: So do you have the power ultimately to stop coal seam gas development in the Surat Basin in Queensland?

GARRETT: Well the Environment Minister has to satisfy himself that any proposal will not have a significant impact on matters of national environment significance and he has to consider that in the light of whether there are particular conditions that have been applied to a proposal that can minimise that significant impact.

JANE PATERSON: So is that a yes you do have the power?

GARRETT: Well as with any decision if it doesn't meet those tests, then the minister, including myself makes a decision that something does or doesn't go ahead.

JANE PATERSON: There's widespread debate that you're no doubt aware of here in Queensland, particularly concern from local farmers that there is insufficient science on the longer term impacts of coal seam gas development on underground aquifers for example to be able to allow this industry to go ahead and yet the Coordinator-General and it seems the State Government here in Queensland wants the jobs that that industry will provide. What's your take on those two opposing forces?

GARRETT: Look I think the important thing for me is to make sure that the advice that comes through to me is comprehensive, that if we need more advice from the companies in question that that advice comes to me in a form which enables me to have a clear view.

We've had a number of these proposals before, I approved the Gorgon gas proposal, a very big significant proposal in Western Australia but that was subject to an extraordinary amount of work that had to be done between government officials, reports, and finally the conditions that I placed on Gorgon which were the most comprehensive set of conditions that we've seen in a project at that time.

These things are large, they're complex. The task of any politician is firstly to make sure if they're a minister they promptly fulfil their ministerial responsibilities under the Act and secondly to balance the ongoing economic sustainability of the country with the appropriate and proper levels of protection of our environment, longer term. And that's what I'll do in these cases as well.

JANE PATERSON: Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett who has the power under the Environment Protection Biodiversity in Conservation Act to pass judgement it seems on the coal seam gas projects proposed for the Surat Basin.


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