The Sydney Morning Herald Report by Tim Barlass on 9th April
1000 pigs dead due to gas mining pollution, says submission to Senate, April 10, 2016
The death of up to 1000 pigs has been blamed on pollution associated with controversial gas mining, in a submission to a Senate inquiry into regulation of the coal seam gas industry.
The claims, backed by graphic photographs, were made as part of a 90-page submission by the family of George Bender, who committed suicide in October 2015, after years of battling gas mining on and adjacent to his property.
Deaths occurred at the property Valencia in Chinchilla, 300 kilometres west of Brisbane, at the piggery established in the 1940s and run by Mr Bender for decades. He won numerous awards for his prize pigs at local and state competitions.
Problems are said to have started as several mining companies moved into the area including:
- Pigs gasping for air and dying without physical cause.
- Pigs aborting near full term or sows unable to deliver a live litter.
- Young pigs becoming sick with swollen eyes, rashes and lung issues.
Mr Bender’s daughter, Helen, who prepared the submission, said pigs were very sensitive to their environment and had many anatomical similarities to humans.
“We have a pig down there that is so dizzy it looks like he’s drunk. It looks similar to a little cat in a YouTube video in South Dakota where they started fracking which can’t walk straight or hold its head up. The only change to our environment is unconventional gas mining.
“My brother was on the tractor and he stopped it because he thought the tractor was burning. He got outside the tractor and it was actually the Linc Energy smell.”
She said people needed to understand that while the gas industry may not be at their front doors, it would still affect them.
“Food comes from the farm … the risks to food production is high. It is not a matter about if it [contamination] will happen, it is question of when will it happen!”
The submission states: “Unseen stock losses commenced during 2010 and as the gas fields expanded … there was a direct correlation to the negative impacts to the health of the pigs.
“The negative health of the pigs had never been witnessed before in the 75 years of operation and certainly never in the life of George Bender …”
George and Pam Bender were told in early 2011 that the odour was coming from the Linc Energy underground coal gasification plant six kilometres from their farm, according to a member of the Hopeland community, who lived closer to the plant, the submission says. The smell has now been called the “Linc stink” by the community.
An autopsy conducted on a pig in December 2013 found “major abnormalities with the lung and heart”. The autopsy was not included in the submission “due to the sensitivity of the report”.
It states: “On the night of 11 December 2015 there was significant flaring/venting occurring in the gasfields. The following morning three sick pigs were found with all animals dying within 3 days of the flaring.”
The submission says Linc Energy offered $7500 to install air conditioning in the Benders’ home if they signed a confidentiality clause, but they would not agree to the terms.
A spokesman for Linc Energy said while the inquiry is under way, it would be inappropriate to respond to questions. He said there were a number of CSG operators in the Hopeland region whose production facilities were significantly larger than their 1.4 square kilometre underground coal gasification demonstration facility.
“However we acknowledge that the Senate committee’s purpose is to inquire on the adequacy of Australia’s legislative, regulatory and policy framework for unconventional gas mining including coal seam gas (CSG) and shale gas mining.”
Local GP Geralyn McCarron said an investigation into the matter identified a cocktail of chemicals including benzene, toluene, naphthalene, xylene and phenol.
“This is the asbestos of our time,” Dr McCarron said.
“The farmers have to sign a legally binding vendor declaration confirming their produce is not contaminated, but they have absolutely no control over what the miners have put into the water they use. The position farmers have found themselves in is unconscionable, where despite their ongoing best efforts to protect their stock from contamination, all they can really do is hope.”
Ms Bender is now helping to run three properties the family owns, with four brothers, while supporting their widowed mother.
In April 2016, she spoke at the Beyond Coal & Gas conference at Myuna Bay to help others deal with the anguish of protecting their land from mining.
In its submission to the inquiry, the Australian Dairy Council said that it had “concerns about a number of issues” relating to the coexistence of dairy farming and the gas industry.
The Australian Wine Industry submission said it didn’t believe the gas industry could operate near wine-growing regions and that it threatened the reputation of internationally recognised brands.
The committee is to inquire into the adequacy of Australia’s legislative, regulatory and policy framework for unconventional gas mining and is due to provide a final report by June 30.