Drew Hutton (pictured) and a whistleblower have already made complaints to Queensland's corruption watchdog.
Drew Hutton (pictured) and a whistleblower have already made complaints to Queensland's corruption watchdog. Patrick Gorbunovs

Environmental assessment for CSG projects a 'farce'

ANTI-CSG activist Lock the Gate hopes whistleblower allegations about rushed coal seam gas approvals in Queensland to capitalise on the economic boom will spark a public inquiry into a misconduct "scandal".

The group's president Drew Hutton and whistleblower Simone Marsh have already made complaints to the state's corruption watchdog, with Queensland Premier Campbell Newman also raising his concerns.

ABC's Four Corners has devoted an hour to the controversial mining boom in the state, with former Queensland bureaucrat Ms Marsh labelling the environmental assessment process for two of Australia's biggest coal seam gas projects a "farce".

The senior environmental specialist was part of the Queensland Government team which approved Santos's $18 billion and Queensland Gas Company's $20 billion LNG projects in the Western Downs in 2010.

She has told the Four Corners program the final stages of the three-year approval processes were rushed and the environmental impacts not properly assessed.

"It was quite frightening that they would consider approving such a project without the basic information that a normal mining project would have been asked to submit, given that this was like six hundred times the size of your standard, large mine," she said during the Monday night program.

"All the scientific arguments in the world wouldn't have changed things in that situation.

"They had decided they wanted to go ahead with the projects and there was nothing stopping it."

Four Corners reporter Matthew Carney told ABC News breakfast that one of the major issues was removing an estimated "22 Sydney Harbours" from the coal seam.

He said farmers were concerned their agricultural land would be compromised, inside three years in some cases, as bores went dry and they could no longer water their cattle.

"The CSG companies say they're going to make good which means they will try to fix the groundwater but that really hasn't been put into practice," he said.

"Farmers are asking how can they actually do that, are they going to truck in the water, are they going to reinject the water, that's yet to be tested."

Along with Simone Marsh who is the whistleblower tonight we've got 1000 pages of FOI documents to back up her claims that this was a rushed process and there was a lot of pressure on public servants to come to decisions quickly at the expense of making proper assessments."

In written statements to Four Corners, QGC and Santos said the Coordinator-General approved the environmental impact statements on the basis that sufficient information had been made available.

Mr Hutton said he had been alleging the Coordinator-General's Department and the Queensland Government had acted illegally for years.

He said he believed they had breached the Environmental Protection Act several ways and "allowed these companies to get their environmental approvals without having submitted the necessary information".

"I'm very pleased that finally, after three years of my saying this whole process was not just rushed but illegal, there's a significant section of the media accepting that this was an illegal operation," he said.

"I expect there'll be a backlash from the community over it. The community should be outraged.

"These are the biggest projects in this state's history with the highest potential environmental impacts ... yet the Queensland Government pushed these through without nearly enough information on impacts.

"This is scandal that can only be adequately dealt with by a full commission of inquiry."

The Crime and Misconduct Commission's media staff could not be contacted on Monday.

A spokesman for the Premier said Campbell Newman wrote to the CMC about the issue in February.

"We've put in place a Gasfield Commission to properly administer the industry and I have no concerns at this time about anything that they are doing," Mr Newman said at the time.

"But in terms of the process and what may or may not have happened, well Drew Hutton is right to raise those concerns. I share those concerns and I think the CMC should be looking at it."

Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association's Eastern Region chief Rick Wilkinson defended the natural gas industry, which he said employed more than 27,000 people in Queensland and had a "sound" environmental track record.

He said the Four Corners program was another example of the ABC taking "a set against natural gas development from coal seams".

"The Environmental Impact Statements for CSG/LNG projects in Queensland took between three and four years to evaluate and finalise. And this is before any of the detailed Environmental Authorities to proceed were granted," he said.

"They resulted in regulations that require industry to adhere to around 1800 environmental conditions - arguably some of the toughest requirements for industry anywhere in the world.

"I'm not in a position to comment on internal government processes but three years after projects were approved one third of Eastern Australia's natural gas comes from CSG."

Mr Hutton said he hoped an inquiry would identify any official misconduct, establish there were "major illegal impacts on the environment" without enforcement and develop environmental law reforms to stop large companies "rorting" the environmental impact assessment process.

Gas Leak! will air first on April 1 at 8.30pm, then replayed on April 2 at 11.35pm. It is also available on ABC iview.