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
- 4 days 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.
Newcomers on the streets of Wandoan

Newcomers on the streets of Wandoan –  photograph by  David Lowe

By @AnnieKia

It took a while for me to realise what ‘unconventional gas’ meant.

When I heard Metgasco wanted to extract gas at Casino, I thought it would be a couple of gas wells. Then I saw saw the Gaslands documentary – and the aerial photo of the Tara gasfield in southern Queensland.

Unconventional gas mining involves getting gas from hard-to-get places, such as coal seams, shale or tight sands strata.

It can only be achieved using technologies best described as invasive, both above and below ground.

My ‘dawning’ process was accompanied by dread.

As a citizen, I knew I had a responsibility to make an effort to understand these new technologies. I listened to YouTube lectures by Tony Ingraffea, a Cornell mining engineer and  came to understand the relentless logic of this industry: progressive replication of a gas contraption across landscapes.

CSG involved not just gaswells in close proximity, but pipes, roads, compressor stations, treatment plants and wastewater ponds.

Tony Ingraffea says people fail to comprehend the spatial intensity involved, that people are over and over again shocked by the 5500 well gasfield in Pennsylvannia, even though ‘we haven’t even started’.

These 5500 wells represents just 2{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} of the eventual gasfield build.

The inexorable logic of this industry is that profits require progressive expansion of the gasfield contraption.

Until communities understand this, they’re sitting ducks for gas industry PR and glossy brochures.

One exploration well doesn’t look too bad – it starts to look bad when you realise that one well is a trojan horse for a gasfield.

In early 2013 I travelled to the Darling Downs with filmmaker David Lowe, getting footage for the Lock The Gate films.

I’d been told to expect lots of traffic, but nothing prepared me for what I saw as we travelled through Miles to Wandoan.

‘Spatial intensity’ came to mean something – unbelievable streams of trucks carrying pipes, huge equipment, masses of workers in Dayglo vests. Huge gouges in the land running every which way for collection pipes. Vast holding ponds for waste water. Lots of signs with company logos saying ‘Keep Out’.

I sat at an outdoor café with a local, who didn’t want to talk on film for fear of repercussions with their job. My informant told me a temporary housing bubble induced the elderly to sell and leave – there was no-one to look after them anyway.

School numbers were down. The school bus contract was not as profitable. A charity store in the main street had closed. The Rural Fire Brigade was losing volunteers. The golf club was struggling.

The caravan park no longer took travellers – it was crammed with little boxes for drive-in-drive-outs. I was told that when they finish building the huge work camps, the Dayglo crews won’t have to shop in town.

I know a bit about social capital, having worked in health promotion. I know how associations such as football, Landcare and churches support mental and physical health.

We mobilise these networks when floods and fire come: precious, invisible bonds that keep us safe and nourish community wellbeing.

But there I was, listening to a troubled local tell me the charity store had closed and the fire brigade was in difficulty.

My informant’s face showed stress lines. This person conveyed a sense of helplessness as they told me their story.

My eyes glanced to a street filled with imported workers getting in and out of mining trucks. The town’s lifeblood was ebbing away, yet the town itself was swarming with activity.

An image came to mind from wildlife films: a time-lapse animation of a beast going down and a host of other organisisms swarming over it, frenetically feeding on the carcass.

Because the town no longer had accommodation, we scrounged tent space at the showground, alongside the drive-in-drive-out crews.

The next day, I needed ice for the esky. As I lifted ice from the freezer, my eyes met those of a local.

“Wandoan seems to have changed…, I said, leaving space for her to fill the dots.

“It’s awful, what’s happened here,” she said.

These were the only words she managed before she stopped speaking.

A DayGlo had entered the shop. The local’s eyes dropped. Lips zipped. Conversation over.

As I was driving home to the Northern Rivers, this scene disturbed me more than any other.

There was a new social structure in the gasfields, a system of patronage that needed careful handling. The mining companies were the new players, dispensing largesse, working to a game plan.

What kind of colonisation was going on here, that a local person did not feel confident to tell the story of what had befallen her town?

‘Unconventional gasfields’ is a clunky term. A technical term. It doesn’t matter whether the methane they’re after is in shale, tight sands or coal seams.

With extreme technologies, these gasfields are invasive above and below ground.

After Wandoan, I realised these gasfields are also invasive to communities.

So let’s call it as it is. From now on, these colonising gasfields have a name.

They are invasive, industrial gasfields.