Queensland minister for natural resources and mines Andrew Cripps has announced that work is underway to extinguish a slow-burning fire in an abandoned coal exploration well on the Darling Downs.
Rural landholder and community groups have pointed to three nearby coal seam gas wells operated by Arrow Energy as the likely cause of the methane gas leak that caused the fire, however Mr Cripps said on Tuesday night that claims the leak was a direct result of CSG production have not been substantiated.
A spokesman for Arrow Energy reiterated on Tuesday afternoon that there had been no evidence that Arrow’s operations had caused gas to leak from the 32-year-old coal exploration bore and it was unknown how long this bore had been flowing gas.
A meeting of Queensland Government officers and local resource companies on Tuesday developed a plan to remediate the site on a road reserve north-west of Dalby.
"Officers from the Petroleum and Gas Inspectorate of my Department will oversee a two-stage operation beginning tomorrow (Wednesday) that will firstly, extinguish the shallow flame, stabilise the former exploration site, and then seal it," Mr Cripps said in a media release issued Tuesday night.
"Local resource companies will provide equipment and technical expertise, however officers from the State Government's P&G Inspectorate will be on-site at all times".
Mr Cripps said the success of the operation would depend upon favourable weather.
"Unfortunately rain is forecast in the area this week," he said.
"Earthworks will begin early tomorrow to prepare the site for the heavy equipment that will be needed later in the week to drill the test hole out.
"That work may unfortunately be delayed if forecast rain eventuates."
Mr Cripps said the State Government would also make it a priority to provide regular updates to local landholders and the community, to "counter the misinformation and wild speculation being irresponsibly spread by groups opposed to the coal seam gas industry".
"I'd like to single out anti-CSG activist Drew Hutton for making constant, unsubstantiated claims that this incident is directly-related to CSG production," Mr Cripps said.
"Mr Hutton this morning labelled the Queensland Government's efforts to effectively deal with this situation as 'absurd and irresponsible'.
"I wonder whether local community members in the Dalby area share his opinion when the absolute priority of the State Government is to put public health and safety first."
Mr Cripps said all parties involved in this operation were confident of success.
"The team we have assembled involves resource companies with skilled engineers, experienced in both the coal and gas sector.
"Many of the activities being undertaken are routine procedures for these companies, and I hope we can permanently restore this site as quickly as possible."