Dayne Pratzky got more than a treechange when he decided to move from Sydney a few years ago to the Western Darling Downs in southern Queensland.
He got himself a fight.
Not only that, his opponent is one of the biggest industries in Australia, one supported and aided by state and federal governments: the coal seam gas industry.
“Where I live in the Tara Estate, it’s all timbered bushland blocks. No agriculture. I guess you could call them lifestyle blocks. And many socially disadvantaged people live there,” Dayne said when The Echo caught up with him in Ballina yesterday where he was attending (and answering questions at) a screening of Gasland.
“That’s why the state government and the gas company started there because the people didn’t have the power or money to resist. However,” and here Dayne smiled, “we have made a stand. This is the first time people have gone out in direct action against coal seam gas exploration. It was a rude awakening for the state government and the gas companies.”
Dayne and Tara landowners have recently had a win against the mining giant Queensland Gas Company (owned by British Gas). The state government ruled that QGC was in breach of environmental authority. The blockaders at the Tara Estate are campaigning to stop QGC from building a pipeline on to their estate. The police have packed up and left, and QGC has stopped all work on the pipeline. At least temporarily...
Dayne is no greenie or hippie. In fact, he has worked as a logger and an underground driller. He was looking for peace and quiet.
Dayne moved onto his timbered retreat and began building his house. One day a gas company approached him and he thought it wasn’t a bad idea: he could earn some money – and a few gas wells wouldn’t hurt anybody, right?
“But then I got suspicious because the gas company was so eager,” Dayne said. “So I did some research. Twenty minutes later I decided that no wells would ever go on my land.”
Dayne discovered coal seam gas wells vent untreated methane into the atmosphere. And they leak. He discovered that produced water (the water first pumped from the coal seam) contains contaminants infused from the coal and is sometimes pumped directly into creeks and rivers. Then there’s fracking, where chemicals and water are pumped into the coal seam.
Plus there’s a lot of clearing to be done. Every well has a pad. Every well must have a 24-hour access road. There’s de-watering lines, gas lines and the high pressure gas line – all of which have cleared easements. Then there’s the metering and compressor stations.
In Tara there are now 12 wells but 200 are planned. It destroyed the peaceful environment he lived in.
“Gas companies knew the plans for Tara since they did seismic testing 10 years ago,” Dayne said. “But they operate under a cloak of secrecy. Metgasco has full plans for the Northern Rivers – but they won’t tell residents. And the state governments help them by waiving some royalties and exempting them from some planning and environmental laws.”
Dayne has become the face of the resistance to coal seam gas mining.
“I’m just a regular bloke,” he said. “I got involved with the local group (Western Downs Alliance, part of the Lock The Gate Alliance). This is the way people have a voice and power to fight for their rights.
“The media has latched onto me because I’m not a traditional environmentalist. My passion and the stance I’ve taken have led me to this role. And I refuse to take a backward step.
“Now I find myself at the pointy end of a non-violent social uprising against state and federal government because our democratic rights have been superseded by mining companies.
“Never before has an industry brought communities together like the coal seam gas industry has. To have farmers standing next to environmentalists is groundbreaking; revolutionary.
“This is the start of something bigger than the Franklin Dam because of the number of people affected.”
Dayne Pratzky will take part in a Q&A session after a screening of Gasland at Birch Carroll & Coyle cinema in Lismore tonight (Thursday, April 7) at 6.45pm.
For more info on the coal seam gas resistance check out www.lockthegate.org.au and visit the Keerrong Gas Squad Facebook page.