Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has approved gas exploration in the fragile Lake Eyre basin, which is home to the last large free-flowing desert river system in the world.
Scientists say that gas infrastructure would interrupt the flow of water during floods, starving the river channels and the landscape of the water that periodically turns the arid landscape into lush green valleys. Palaszczuk has granted exploration rights to more than 800,000 hectares of rivers and floodplains around the basin, according to an estimate by environmental campaign group Lock the Gate.
Adding insult to injury, federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has approved the expansion of the Lake Vernon coal mine in the Bowen basin. On top of that, as reported by Callum Foote from Michael West Media, Plibersek on 20 February announced that her department had granted Santos, an oil and gas exploration company, approval to develop a 116-well coal seam gas project in the Surat basin.
Lock the Gate, an alliance of farmers, traditional owners and conservationists, has been campaigning against fracking near Queensland’s outback rivers for years. In the last three state election campaigns, the Labor Party promised to protect the floodplains of the Channel Country within the Lake Eyre basin—contrasting itself to the Liberal National Party opposition, which tore up protections for the area when it was last in government.
But instead of re-establishing protections contained in the initial Wild Rivers Act, which offered some defence for the wetlands in the Lake Eyre basin, the state government only founded a stakeholder advisory group. The concerns of stakeholders such as those involved in Lock the Gate have been promptly ignored.
Undeterred, activists held a protest to present their petition of more than 10,000 signatures to the Queensland parliament on 22 February. “While the Palaszczuk government dawdles, the Resources Department is waving through exploration applications from gas companies covering some of the most precious parts of the Lake Eyre Basin”, Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland coordinator Ellie Smith said in a media release.
“The further these applications progress, the harder it will be for the government to claw them back. Queenslanders need decisive action now. We can’t wait another election cycle for more hollow promises”, she continued.
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