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Shell’s advertising campaign for coal seam gas in the Ann Street underpass.

By Jason Egbars

Queensland commuters have been hit with an advertising blitz as the coal seam gas industry prepares to increase operations in Queensland.

On Friday, Shell banners adorned a walkway to Brisbane’s Central Station.

The banners made reference to ‘cleaner electricity’ and encouraged passersby to ‘find out why we’re investing in natural gas’.

Shell-owned Arrow Energy plans to invest in the lucrative gas export industry currently being set up by ConocoPhillips-Origin, Santos, and QGC on Curtis Island near Gladstone.

It will be the biggest of its kind for Arrow, which currently has coal seam gas wells in Eastern Australia’s Surat and Bowen basins.

Coal seam gas, exported as LNG, is a multi-billion dollar industry set to boom.

While Arrow is still in the proposal stage, QGC will export in 2014.

QGC ran its own advertisements on south-east Queensland mainstream television from 2011 until recently.

While the advertisements highlighted the benefits of the company, nowhere did they detail QGC’s involvement in the coal seam gas industry.

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A still from QGC’s television advertising campaign

Like Shell’s careful use of the term ‘natural gas’ for coal seam gas, QGC’s decision to distance itself from its main form of business signals an industry that is highly controversial.

The dangers of coal seam gas first entered the consciousness of the global mainstream with Josh Fox’s 2010 Emmy award-winning documentary Gasland.

The film reveals the environmental destruction and health impacts caused by coal seam gas mining, including the contamination of local water supply and chronic illness experienced by residents.

These are the dangers of an industry set to radically alter Queensland’s landscape.

Currently there are around 5000 active coal seam gas wells in Queensland, with this number expected to grow to 40,000 by current predictions.

The industry is set to cover prime agricultural land, and opponents argue coal seam gas mining could affect the stability of the south-east Queensland food bowl by contaminating the water table and reducing water supply.

Coal seam gas extraction involves the intense use of water and creates salt and heavy metal byproducts that can contaminate surrounding farmland.

Fracking, a method used in coal seam gas extraction, works by horizontally fracturing the underground rock strata, splintering the rock to release gas from coal seams.

In some cases, this process has caused irreversible damage to aquifers through the release of toxic chemicals.

Methane leaks are an unavoidable byproduct of coal seam gas production, undermining its status as a ‘cleaner’ energy source.

Interviewees in Lock the Gate Alliance’s new documentary Fractured Country spoke of health problems as a result of living close to gas wells.

Earlier this month Tony Abbott promised more environmental health testing for the Tara region, after a Queensland Health report recommended a ‘more strategic ambient air monitoring project be implemented to assess the impact of coal seam gas activities.

In some cases, landowners near gas wells have been able to set alight water running from their taps.

Coal seam gas projects are subject to federal scrutiny under the new ‘water trigger’ legislation of Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) if considered to have a significant impact on water resources.

The legislation requires projects to be considered, but does not guarantee projects will be stopped if found to be environmentally damaging.

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is a strong advocate for coal seam gas production and in September labeled coal seam gas opponents ‘anarchists’.

Lock the Gate Alliance is screening Fractured Country at 7pm this Thursday at South Leagues Club, Brisbane.

Tickets are $10 at the door or available online.