Black Rain: Waiting for results in Tara – Rob Rimmer reports

Stephanie Dale

Stephanie Dale

Citizen Journalist at No Fibs
Stephanie Dale is a journalist and author with a background of 25 years in media, politics and publishing. Stephanie believes we need to find new ways of sharing our Earth, and making way for all its people, not just those privileged by the current economic system, and all its creatures - on their own terms.
Stephanie Dale
- 18 hours ago
Stephanie Dale
I have two published books available - the novel Hymn for the Wounded Man and the travel memoir My Pilgrim's Heart, which was reviewed recently by the Huffington Post.

Origin - What is Black Stuff

By Rob Rimmer

On August 2, 2013 Western Downs resident Steve Ansford made a complaint to Origin Energy’s local office at Chinchilla regarding mysterious environmental and health impacts occurring on his property at Upper Humbug Road, near Tara in Queensland.

For the second day running, southerly winds appeared to have brought an overnight shower: drops of a sticky black substance ‘with a chemical-type odour’ lay across the Ansfords’ land, house and roof — the harvesting-point for the family of four’s domestic water supply.

Meanwhile, blobs deposited on the first day had begun bleaching the duco of his car.

Black rain on car duco

Black rain on car duco

In addition to the mysterious ‘black rain’ and strange, offensive odours, the southerlies brought persistent health problems for Steve’s family, including nausea, headaches, skin and eye irritation, and lethargy.

August 2, 2013 was the second time in two years that the Ansfords had contacted Origin (or any of the coal seam gas companies active in their local area) regarding health and environmental impacts they believed were related to coal seam gas operations.

In early 2012, Steve had reported to Origin that he and his family were experiencing health problems similar to those they now suffered – although on this occasion the symptoms were not accompanied by the ‘black rain’.

He was told that air samples were to be taken on a nearby property.

Steve and Judy have heard nothing since, regarding either their complaints or the test results of the air samples.

The Ansfords are well aware of the scale of the behemoth now rolling out across the road from their property.

Origin’s $1.5 billion Ironbark Project is in the process of developing a voluntary Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in its bid for final state government approval of a 72,300 hectare (72.3 square kilometre) development, comprising:

  •  up to 600 gas wells
  • underground gas and water gathering networks
  • up to two gas plants with field compression
  • a sales gas pipeline with an easement of up to 30 m width
  • warehouses and administration buildings
  • CSG water management infrastructure
  • temporary and permanent accommodation facilities
  • related infrastructure including access roads, telecommunications and sewerage infrastructure.

Steve and his wife Judy make clear they have nothing against Origin in principle, or against either of their other major gas-extracting neighbours, QGC and Arrow Energy.

However, as another week of ‘black rain’ and worsening health symptoms passed without further contact from Origin, the Ansfords were approaching desperation.

On August 9 they took their concerns public – by zip-tying five large white banners to the boundary fence of their property in full view of passing traffic along the road between their front gate and the Ironbark Project site.

r u polluting our air water

The Ansfords’ public questions gained a swift official response, albeit from what Steve and Judy considered to be the wrong government agency.

Within 24 hours, local police were at the property making enquiries as to whether the Ansfords intended to stage a protest action and what form that protest might take. It was another month before Origin representatives visited the Ansfords.

Going public had other, unexpected results for the Steve and Judy, as the banners drew the attention of the Tara-based Gasfield Community Support Group (GCSG), which was preparing to initiate contact with Origin through spokesperson Debbi Orr.

The story was picked up by social media networks and on-line and real-time supporters in urban and other regional areas circulated two online petitions via Avaaz.org and Change.org, in a bid to stop the ‘black rain’.

Coal Seam Gas Compliance Unit staff responded to Debbi Orr’s enquiries with this brief reply:

Date: Tue, 3 Sep 2013 18:02:05 +1000
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]

Hi Debbi,

A quick update. The results of the samples taken in mid August are still being reviewed.  Requests have been made from Origin about their activities in the area however this has not been received to date.  All of this information will inform the next steps in investigating the complaints.

If landholders are concerned about health matters they should contact their local health professional.

By the time Origin representatives met personally with Steve and Judy at their home on September 5, the Change.org petition – which was addressed to Origin’s CEO Upstream Paul Zealand – had been circulating for several days.

According to Steve, Origin representatives made reference to further tests to be carried out by the CSG Compliance Unit in response to his case, the results of which have yet to be released.

During the weeks that followed, the Ansfords took steps towards independently testing their domestic water supply, as their symptoms had intensified and they were becoming increasingly concerned about their family’s health.

As members and supporters of the GCSG gathered evidence about their interactions with company and government representatives via phone, email and Facebook, Change.org communications director Tony Robertson obtained permission from the Ansfords to pitch the story to representatives of some of Sydney’s largest media outlets.

Within a fortnight, not only the Ansfords but several of their neighbours and friends from Upper Humbug Road were speaking to reporters, who also took their own independent water samples for analysis.

Steve and Judy now return to waiting: for the initial results of three separate testing programs, for their story to air and, once again, for Origin to contact them with a response to their demands either for the impacts to cease or for their family to be re-located out of the reach of potential harm.

Meanwhile, as of 8pm on October 24, the heavy vehicle movements along Upper Humbug Road have become more numerous, the southerlies continue to bring strange ‘whiffs’ and the Ansfords are still sick.

ORIGIN ISSUED A STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS FROM NO FIBS:

“Origin staff met with the Steve and Judy Ansford on October 1. During this visit Origin offered to engage an independent third party to sample and test the residue on their motor vehicles to help both the company and the Ansford’s understand what it is from. We followed this offer up in writing on October 11.

Origin staff visited the Ansford’s again yesterday (October 29) to follow through on this commitment to sample and test the residue. The Ansford’s have kindly provided their consent and samples have been taken and monitoring equipment put in place to see if it is possible to detect the presence of any airborne residue.

We will continue to work with the Ansford’s about their concerns and will share the results of this testing with them directly in the first instance.”

Other links

Brian Monk – Point of Origin


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Comments

  1. The most telling -or another worrying issue – is Origin hasn’t even shown any concern.

    • Another bit of ammunition to be added to the rapidly increasing pile of worry that is the entire industry of CSG.

      Will our ‘cone of silence’ federal government take notice?

  2. Have you seen Gasland (especially piece about the toxins used and emitted during CSG processes?). You can’t trust the Company’s testing, assurances and …delays. And sick people can’t fight effectively. If I was you do all I could but from a safe distance. GET THE HELL OUT even if it means having to live in a car somewhere else. You CANNOT put a price on your and your family’s health. If you tolerate it (and all these warning symptoms that your body is being harmed) then damage will be done and you will never be the same
    . Good luck.

  3. Black sooty mold that comes from the scale on the gum trees. Common around these parts and discussed and dismissed in 2010. Better if the townies stay in the towns rather than coming out here and screaming about natural phenomena that they try to blame on CSG. You give us all a bad name.
    Health impacts around here are more likely connected to the burning of rubbish in the councils tips, often located near schools.
    There are many important issues surrounding CSG, this isn’t one of them.
    Graeme Henderson
    http://www.anti-mining.com

  4. All these comments are appreciated – thankyou. With regard to your comment, Graeme, a few points to note:

    (1) Nobody is screaming here, simply responding to the concerns raised by the Ansfords themselves, who when personally contacted were only too happy to have some “townies” on their side. The “us all” that we are giving a “bad name” to were conspicuously absent when the Ansfords asked for help, while long-standing community activists based in and around Tara for many years took these concerns very seriously. It’s one thing to rail against mining as a voice in the wilderness, quite another to take that voice where it is likely to have any political impact whatsoever. That voice, whether any of us like this or not, must be heard in the cities, by the townies, who hold the majority of the voting power Australia-wide.

    (2) Even if there was “screaming”, it would be simply to further amplify the voices of the Ansfords themselves – and of several other families in the area who declined to be named publicly – as they ask Origin for an explanation based on proper scientific testing. To ring Origin’s “Community Engagement” people and be redirected to a staff member based in South Australia is clearly unacceptable, given the scale of the impacts these people are likely to continue to experience as a result of the ‘Ironbark’ project – with or without the “black rain” phenomenon.

    Like certain high-profile commentators who have since scoffed at the Ansfords and this story, you have made the mistake of assuming that I have set out with my mind already made up as to the source of this phenomenon. However, if you (or they) had cared to read my work in detail, you would have seen that its central aim has been to raise awareness in the hope that Origin will actually move to fulfil the promises of “community engagement” which are found throughout its glossy brochures and web resources. I approached this story from the outset prepared to be proven wrong – but the operative word here is “proven”. No amount of ad hominem attack or talk of ignorant city-slickers can achieve this proof – in fact these crude responses simply serve to increase the concern among ordinary Australians everywhere that Origin has something to hide, and that our media has been captured to a large extent by vested interests.

    (3) You seem to be suggesting that it’s not a matter for concern when an entire family – and several of their near neighbours – (local residents for some time) are either ignored or ridiculed for reporting a phenomenon previously unknown to them, along with health symptoms which they see as having commenced at roughly the same time; ignored and ridiculed, moreover, by a massive corporate interest which has a duty of care to ensure that no harm is done to humans within the impact zone of their still quite new and potentially hazardous industrial activities. I disagree – and I think you will find that many others regard this behaviour by Origin (widely reported as typical of major CSG operators in Queensland) to be one of the more concerning aspects of the coal seam gas “boom”.

    (4) Origin, in this case, were forced to sit up and take notice. As a result of the awareness raised by this article, and by the work of many other concerned citizens – more than a few based in rural and regional areas – Origin has been forced to address this issue squarely and to take the Ansfords’ claims seriously. Testing has now been carried out on the Ansfords’ property by Origin representatives and by other independent parties. If the results of these tests indicate “sooty mold from gum trees” (others have said insect excretions) rather than anything CSG-related, I will consider it a good day for citizen journalism and thereafter save my breath for other issues.

    Perhaps more importantly, the Ansfords have been made aware that they are not alone in trying to force some accountability from the corporate behemoth moving in just across the road from their home, and have found their health to be improving as a result of water filtration systems paid for by donations from – you may have already guessed – townies from Brisbane, Gold Coast and Northern Rivers. I consider these to be tangible results which may just have improved things for all concerned – Origin included.

    • So you bought some blockies a water filter because their rain water tanks were dirty, well done you. But the rain water tanks weren’t dirty because of CSG which is what you were dishonestly claiming. Did you raise that money by lying?
      This issue came up even before the first blockade I ran in 2010, Debbie Orr and the others from the Western Downs Alliance all knew the truth about the black stuff on the roofs by then.
      All you have done by publishing this is reduced the credibility of the anti-CSG movement by shooting off your mouth before you looked at the facts. That is unacceptable, we need help like that like we need a gas well in our living room. Justify it all you like but it is better you do nothing than make us all look like idiots. And take responsibility for your actions rather than trying to justify their stupidity.

      • Rob Rimmer says:

        Oh dear Graeme. I can see that as you clearly do not read what is there in black and white in front of you, that it is hardly worth continuing this thread. However, in a final effort to clarify things for other readers who may be disturbed by the peculiar brand of vitriol which you seem to enjoy spreading on comment threads on just about any site that will permit it:

        It was Brian Monk and Debbi Orr who first contacted me about this story, and who introduced me to the Ansfords at that family’s request, as they felt that nobody was listening to them – least of all Origin. I was in constant contact with them throughout, and in many instances took my lead from their sound and compassionate advice. If they had “discussed and dismissed” the black rain phenomenon, they certainly did a good job of hiding it from me, and the Ansfords. If you knew better, perhaps you should have made contact with the Ansfords yourself and relieved them of their obvious distress?

        The claims about CSG came from the Ansfords themselves. We simply reported them, and took action to force Origin to acknowledge them, which until that time they had not. You did see the signs that the Ansfords hung around their boundary fence at the time? If not, I gather that it’s simply because you weren’t there. They were obvious enough to attract the attention of the local police, who paid the Ansfords a visit long before anyone from Origin bothered to.

        I quote from a statement which was reproduced in the Dalby Herald at the time in question:

        “”Origin keep denying it’s their fault, but have been unable to offer a credible explanation regarding the source and nature of this mystery substance which falls from the sky,” Mr Rimmer said.

        “The burden of proof is most definitely on Origin to prove that their activities are safe.

        “It shouldn’t be up to a sick, distressed and geographically-isolated working family to prove otherwise.

        “We would welcome a science-based resolution to this problem in the form of independent and thorough testing carried out not at the Ironbark project site.

        “The only ethical course of action is for Origin Energy to halt operations at Ironbark until there is a full and completely independent investigation.

        “If Origin won’t halt operations, then they must agree to move local residents out of the hazard zone at company expense.”

        At this point if you can’t understand the distinction between “dishonestly claiming” and asking an honest and relevant question in an attempt to force Origin to treat impacted residents with respect and decency, then I will waste no further time being a sounding board for your strange and ill-informed attacks. The Ansfords, Orrs, Monks and others in the Western Downs Alliance were all grateful for the support they received from all over Australia following the publication of this story, and I continue to be on good terms with them all today.

        Perhaps if you asked them about this matter yourself instead of skulking around comment threads with this kind of silliness, it might ease your obvious concern for your fellow Tara locals.

        Enough said really. Thanks for giving me this chance to clarify my position, which was also wantonly misunderstood by no less an intellectual heavyweight than Des Houghton of The Australian. I reported the truth and asked for the truth in return. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

      • Skulking around comment threads? How dear you you pompous twerp. Who organised the first anti-csg protest in Australia, me, who ran the first anti-csg blockade in Australia and possibly the world? Me again. Who had the first anti CSG channel in Australia, me. Twice I have been arrested, hundreds of hours I have spent on fighting this battle and every spare cent I have had has been spent fighting CSG. That ain’t skulking moron, that is fighting the battle. How many times have you received death threats from CSG miners and kept going anyway? How many times have you stood alone in the middle of a work site recording the industry in action while refusing the requests to leave? This has been my life since 2007, when I began ringing the alarms and dragging this industry into the cold hard light of day.
        I know who the skulker is here, where were you when the battle started?
        Opposing the lies told by your mates in the Western Downs Alliance and yourself is as important in this battle as fighting the lies told by the mining companies. You have harmed the cause not assisted it and frankly we would be better off if dishonest people like you started helping the mining companies, oh yeah, that’s right, you’re doing that already.