THREE-YEAR STUDY: CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Sarah Lawson pictured at one of the Surat Basin air monitoring sites.
THREE-YEAR STUDY: CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Sarah Lawson pictured at one of the Surat Basin air monitoring sites. Contributed.

Air quality study in the Surat Basin stirs debate

RESEARCHERS have given air quality in the Surat Basin a tick of approval but not all landholders are convinced.

In a national first, the CSIRO has completed a comprehensive ambient air quality study in a CSG area - the Western Downs.

But not everyone interprets the results the same way.

CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Sarah Lawson said the study began in 2015 in response to community concerns regarding the impact of CSG production on air quality in Miles, Condamine and Chinchilla.

She said it found ambient air quality in the Surat Basin was within acceptable levels for pollutants potentially emitted by CSG activities "for the majority of the time”.

"We measured in the gas fields, in and amongst the gas infrastructure and also at regional sites which were a little bit further out from the gas infrastructure,” Dr Lawson said.

It means that, according to the study, ambient air quality in the region of intensive CSG production can be categorised as 'good'.

And while the findings may sound like a cause for relief for a concerned community, they have exasperated tensions underlying the controversial CSG debate.

Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association chief executive Dr Malcolm Roberts was quick to welcome the results, saying the report "clearly dispels the claims that the gas industry is releasing toxic materials into the air”.

"This study, which provides the largest contribution of air quality data in the region, clearly provides information for the local community about good ambient air quality.”

But for Chinchilla local and landholder advocate Shay Dougall, the study raised more questions than it answered.

"The gas field residents have been requesting exposure monitoring of the air here for a long time,” Mrs Dougall said.

"But here we are three years later, thousands of dollars later, and still no closer to the question we want answered.

"Our major concern, which we voiced to CSIRO when the study began, revolves around ambient air monitoring simply not being exposure monitoring.

"I don't want them to be testing the entire bucket of air, I want them to be testing what the people living next to the high point vents are breathing,” she said.

Mrs Dougall's outspoken efforts to protect the rights of landholders began years ago when gas companies started their activities in the Hopelands area.

A fire has burned beneath her ever since she saw fellow residents struggling with the impacts of CSG activity on their properties.

"The reality is the lived experience of the people living next to the gas field infrastructure and having to incorporate it into their lives is nothing compared to what the report is saying,” she said.

"The narrative emerging from this report that everything is 'good' is an absurdity.

"It's debilitating for anyone trying to make sense of it.”

Despite the contention pervading the study, the air quality data collected is set to go a long way towards future and current studies

"There are a lot of different questions people wanted answered and, over time, air quality was prioritised and funded,” Dr Lawson said.

"There is a health study under way in the region that will access potential impacts of coal seam gas on health.

"The data we have collected for the first time, on the levels of pollutants in a CSG region in Australia, will be used in this study and others in stead for the future.”

For Mrs Dougall and her fellow concerned landholders, hopes are high the upcoming study will provide the answers they so desperately want.


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