The Queensland Government is standing by its position that proposed changes to legislation to allow the conversion of unused petroleum wells into water bores will deliver tangible benefits to landholders close to gas developments.
Natural Resources and Mines minister Andrew Cripps introduced amendments to the Land, Water and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 in Queensland Parliament last week.
If passed, Mr Cripps said the changes would enable unused petroleum wells drilled since January 1, 2012, to be converted into water bores for use by farmers and graziers.
Under current legislation, petroleum and gas companies are required to fill unused wells with concrete from top to bottom rather than being able to convert them to an asset that the landholder can use.
The State Government’s announcement that landholders could benefit from water from petroleum and gas bores has been greeted with some scepticism, with rural lawyer Tom Marland from Creevey Russell Lawyers in Toowoomba stating that many landholders are in fact being stripped of underground water rights under the current regulatory regime (see separate story here)
A spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources and Mines said the amendments were designed to fix “an ineffectual piece of legislation” that currently stands in the way of landholders receiving tangible access to water from unused wells drilled by petroleum and gas companies.
“The primary aim of legislation is about allowing the conversion of petroleum and gas wells that are no longer required into water bores,” the spokesperson said in a statement provided to Beef Central.
“These would generally be exploration holes drilled by a petroleum and gas company to investigate strata and potential petroleum/gas resources in an area.
“The legislation would also allow for the conversion of a production well that is no longer required (either due to the gas running out or it not producing as desired) into a water bore.
“This is not about drawing water and gas simultaneously from CSG production wells.
“The legislation is designed to allow the modification of a exploration/production well so it accesses a water bearing aquifer as opposed to a coal seam, as was its original purpose.
“As an example:
- In the Galilee basin North East of Longreach, exploration wells for CSG are being drilled to depths in excess of 1000m;
- The coal seams in this area are below the Great Artesian Basin. That means exploration wells are drilled through the GAB, including the Hooray's and Hutton's aquifers, which are the major underground water source in the area, into the coal below;
- Landholders and exploration companies have expressed a desire in converting these deep holes into shallower bores that access water from the GAB for the benefit of the landholder;
- This generally involves sealing off the bottom portion of the exploration hole with concrete so that the exploration well no longer reaches the coal beds, and only reaches to the target water aquifer. In accordance with defined construction standards, the required casing is then installed and perforated or slotted adjacent to the water aquifer to effectively turn it into a newly constructed water bore.
- Under the current legislation, this approach to using an existing petroleum and gas exploration well is a complicated process. It is too prohibitive for it to occur in most cases. The amendments introduced this week aim to change this
"Similarly, there could be situations in the Surat Basin where an existing CSG well that taps the Walloon Coal Measures could be converted into a stock and domestic bore taking water from the shallower Gubberamunda sandstones – providing this is consistent with current water access rules.
"It is important to note that this legislation is about allowing the infrastructure to be modified to turn it into a water bore that draws water from established water bearing aquifers. It is not about creating additional water or somehow extracting water from a coal seam being targeted for gas production.
"A landholder taking advantage of this legislation to convert a P&G well to a water bore will still be required to meet all the existing requirements of the Water Act 2000 in terms of water extraction from an aquifer. This is not about allowing open slather access to water, it is about fixing an ineffective piece of existing legislation that meant P&G companies had to fill unused wells with concrete from top to bottom rather than being able to convert them to an asset that the landholder can use.
"This asset could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to landholders in some areas.
"Suggestions that these amendments will somehow result in the unsustainable extraction of water, or are evidence of game playing on behalf of the State Government, are incorrect.
"These changes have come about as a result of direct representations and feedback to the State Government from landholders and industries. We have listened to their concerns and we have acted.”