Open Cut » Environment
This document was commissioned by ACARP to improve the understanding of conflict for water resources between the established coal mining and agricultural sectors and the rapidly expanding Coal Seam Gas (CSG) industry.
The external drivers acting on these three sectors and their differential rate of expansion are now determining their development potential and, therefore, conflict for water resources and land access. This competition has elevated tension between local communities, farmers, coal mining and CSG companies. Coupled with the uncertainty regarding the cumulative impacts of multiple CSG projects, conflict for water resources and negative environmental impacts are risks to the coal industry's 'social licence to operate', even if they emanate from another sector.
The aims of this project were to: identify and define water-related issues within the coal mining, CSG and agricultural sectors; explore the regional character of these issues; identify cross-sector risks to the coal mining industry and generate a spatial data product that locates where competition and conflict are most intense between sectors.
The competition for water in catchments will be high when surface and/or groundwater is already highly or over allocated. This has been a desktop study aimed at integrating data from different sources to generate an analysis of the magnitude and spatial location of competition for water resources between the three sectors, while simultaneously understanding the level of water availability and development within a catchment. The analysis has been conducted for the following six 'priority regions' or catchments: the Condamine-Balonne, Fitzroy and Burdekin in QLD and the Namoi, Hunter and Hawkesbury-Nepean in NSW. For each catchment water issues were identified and synthesised to generate a semi-quantitative catchment-level water account estimating current and future water resource exploitation across the sectors.
Development of CSG reserves usually generates large volumes of poor quality CSG associated water as a by-product, which is typically saline and sodic, and presents a significant challenge for sustainable management of water resources. In excess of 90% of future CSG associated water is expected to be generated in QLD, largely in the Condamine-Balonne and Fitzroy catchments, given the scale of QLD's CSG-based LNG export projects and current 2P reserves. Cumulative modelling suggests that an average of 75-125 GL/yr of CSG associated water will be produced over the life of the QLD CSG-LNG projects, peaking between 2020 and 2030, followed by a decline to zero by about 2060.
Largest gains in coal mining raw water consumption are likely to be in the Burdekin, Fitzroy and Namoi associated with increased mining activity in the Galilee, Bowen and Gunnedah Basins, with moderate gains in the Hunter.
Agricultural water consumption is highest in the Burdekin and Condamine-Balonne, followed by the Namoi. Agricultural water consumption is comparatively low in the Hawkesbury-Nepean and the Hunter; with urban and industrial supply comprising a significant component of water use here. Intensively developed agricultural aquifers include the Namoi alluvium, the Condamine alluvium and the lower Burdekin delta alluvium, particularly in years of low surface water availability. For example, groundwater use in the Namoi increases from 49% to 78% in dry years and from 18% to 60% in dry years in the Condamine-Balonne.
With grazing the dominant land use in the Fitzroy and western Condamine-Balonne, significant potential demand exists for CSG associated water for livestock watering in these regions. There may also be significant demand for RO permeate for existing irrigated agriculture in these regions, including high-value cotton cropping in the Condamine-Balonne. The transient availability of RO permeate presents a significant limitation to the long-term development of irrigated agriculture. Although the highest increases in raw water demand in the coal industry are likely to be in the western Burdekin and the northern Fitzroy, beneficial reuse of CSG associated water is limited in these areas by significant transportation costs. Beneficial reuse opportunity exists in the southern Fitzroy where CSG associated water is available from the Glebe Weir associated with Santos-GLNG's Dawson Industrial Supply Scheme and QGC-QCLNG's Woleebee Creek to Glebe Weir Pipeline.