Wandoan – thriving or dying? Either way, a new name is in town @AnnieKia reports

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% 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.







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  1. Susie Russell says

    Thanks Annie. I know what you mean. I too thought that the odd gas well wouldn’t be a problem until I realised as you say that it is the Trojan Horse for a gasfield which is an industrial landscape no longer suitable for wildlife, farming or communities. That’s the con, they don’t show the full plan up front it’s an incremental creep until they’ve signed up enough access agreements and then it’s an assault. It’s not so different from the mining towns where the company owns everything and as long as you do what the company says you’ll be ok… unless of course there’s a downturn or an accident and then you’re on your own. The ultimate privatisation, the corporation owns your house, and keeps the local services on a drip feed and we’re supposed to be grateful for that!

  2. check out the films at http://www.lockthegate.org.au/films and in websiode format at http://www.lockthegate.org.au/webisodes

  3. Insult on injury this fracking business.

    First the insult – just a little well, where’s the harm?

    Then the harm/injury – an entire environment from the surface to many metres below ground ruined/wrecked/vandalised for now and decades into the future. All for a resource that will be redundant.

  4. Desley Banks says

    Please speak up & share your stories we need to take a stand & stand up for our future.

  5. Des Houghton says

    What a load of drivel. CSG has revitalised dying communities across SE Queensland. You look ridiculous running this.

    • Im guessing you dont live in Wandoan maybe?? Or possibly own a property that use to house locals but now is charged out at over $1000p/w to workers?

  6. They’re not invading with armies, they’re invading with cheque books.

  7. I’m a “dayglo” and reside in one of the camps I helped build. Bus in bus out from the city. I was there 9 months before I even had the opportunity to travel to Wandoan and buy treats from the local IGA and the cafe. I had not been there since I was a small child. Wandoan is the town where my father was raised, where his parents received a land grant after the war when Pop had done his bit in New Guinea. I even know that Wandoan was once named “Juandah”, but that changed when the mail got mixed up with “Jundah” down the road. I doubt the author of this article had even heard of Wandoan until the “Lock the Gate” campaign surfaced. Sure I get treated as an “invader”.. Not shabbily, but I know how these things go. I work in construction. A college educated tradesman, yet I get called “a miner” and now a “dayglow”. Doesn’t bother me. There are worse things. Like walking into a pub in Wandoan and realising there’s a 20 minute wait in line at the bottleshop. If only their internet was faster, that eftpos could hit warp speed!

    My grandfather was a farmer, among many other things in his lifetime and saw many changes. He even saw the landscape change while he was there through deforestation. He was part of that. That’s part of what crop farming is about. Changing the landscape to make that rich brigalow soil more productive, with the one goal of putting food on the family table and a roof over their head. Something we all do. Some of us do it for several other less fortunate families who can’t do it for themselves via income tax and the welfare system.

    Farmers have cleared the land around them in the plying their craft through hard labour. So many trees… gone, even just in the last 70 years or so. To feed the “machine”, like a virus in pandemic proportions, spreading, unrelenting. The masses in the cities, the people that use so many of these resources and don’t give an ounce of thought to where they come from. From milk, eggs and bacon, to diesel, petroleum, power and LPG, the hungriest beast this planet has ever endured. All pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, which paradoxically, is largely consumed by … trees.

    I guess you can see the double standard I aiming at here. “But farming is a sustainable resource” I hear you say. Is it? Soil salinity wasn’t a problem before unconventional gas extraction? I’m sure it was, but that’s all gone away now… conveniently enough. It’s all about fracking and land subsidence, residual gas (which was recorded as present decades ago ) and bores that you can ignite (again.. that was possible many many years ago as my father will attest).

    Perhaps one day my own family home will get engulfed and or demolished by the machine to make way for a new highway or railroad to transport all those resources. What can I do about it? Not a damn blasted thing! I wont be using every conceivable avenue of creative possibility to discredit the road building industry.. From poor health due to stress, noise and air pollution, to depression and despair that my family will endure from being relocated. If only I could find some article on depleted uranium used in road building equipment I might be onto something. But unfortunately, the more things I seek to find at fault, or people I seek out to fault find for me, so we can correlate our findings and pin it all on the same process… to achieve a common result, the less credibility we’ll have overall. Another act of futility. When it’s all over bar the shouting, my family and I will then use the road.

    • A Water Shade of Pale says

      Dear Stanley,
      What you dont seem to have mentioned, is the fact that you arrived on the scene ie “being born” as a result of water being available to keep your Dads thirst quenched,while on the job! If you, dear boy, want the same courtesy and rights, you MUST NOT drill the only reliable source of water you have, to infinity and beyond. Leave some for the future generations Stanley, maybe even your own descendents will recognize you ‘came good in the end’. Keep eating your greens Stanley and be good to your Mother.XXX

      • My conscience is clear friend and for more clarity, my old boy left the area well before I was conceived. I guess that’s what did the trick. My job if you’re interested entails providing commodity to treat product water so it may be reintroduced to the aquifers from which it is taken. I know EVERYTHING seems to be wrong with that doesn’t it? People’s towns being taken over by city workers, their rents increasing, bores are waning to record lows, again..and toxic hazards, being anything from alleged radioactive materials to airborne carcinogens, the sky is obviously falling.

        I see these ag hippy pages and as someone a little closer to both sides than most, including your good self I would wager, I see the polarising misinformative views being thrown into the public eye. So many Erin Brockoviches and doomsayers, not to mention those who’ve picked the sour grapes in the scenario and various others reluctant to change with their own axes to grind>

        When you finish coughing up the desiccated coconut from the lamington you’re having with your tea after what I am about to say, why not look up what these companies are actually doing to protect the environment, to reinstate and promote the regrowth of native flora that has long been lost, the lengths and expense they are going to, to purify product water to far beyond what is required for drinking let alone agricultural use. Even just for a little balance in your information diet.

        Or you can just keep surfing these green websites that all have the same message about anything that was born out of the industrial revolution their ancestors apparently had no part in.

      • Water Shade of Pale says

        Dear Stanley,
        Yes Im very interested. What is the name of your commodity? And can you elaborate on the meaning of “closer to both sides than most” .Then I think you may need a bath and an early night. You sound exhausted!

  8. By the industry own figures, 5% of gaswells fail from the day they are sunk due to casing failure, this is not a new thing, it is simply the nature of mining and is the same with conventional, non-conventional, regardless of horizontal drilling or fracking. That 5 percent rises over time (as the concrete/cement starts to age). With the sheer numbers of gaswells sunk this means that contamination to aquifers is not a threat, it is par the course both from the onset and long after the gas companies have been and gone. If you look at the location of gas wells in Queensland you will see they are literally in the midst of cropping lands. So the question is, whats in the water? Both from contamination from underground pollutants and the chemical concoction used by the companies as drilling fluids and fracking fluids. I can assure you dear reader, and people from both sides of the fence, that polluted water is not good for you or your kids. It is being uptaken by the plants and animals that you then eat. Think about that next time you are in woolies buying your fresh fruit and veg.
    Don’t believe the figures about the well failure rate? Youtube search for DR. ANTHONY INGRAFFEA AT HAMPTON HIGH. The first 5-10 minutes of part 2 explains it clearly.

    Make no doubt about it, this industry is leaving a horrible legacy worldwide that many generations of people will be affected by. That is the simple truth of it. Also if you are a gas worker, especially one that works drilling sites, please see an independent doctor and get blood checks and also make sure you try to keep contact details of other workers. You will need them in a decade or two. Hydrocarbons and volatile organics are nasty things, what makes some of the volatiles particularly bad is that they are so small they can pass unhindered through your lungs straight into blood stream then to your organs/bones where they can then overtime cause tumors, leukemia and cancers. But hey don’t take my word for it, looking at ‘Fairview coal seam methane field’ in Injune QLD just on its own, 1.4 million kilograms of volatile organics, not even looking at the other substances,

  9. My heart goes out to the people whose lives have been totally disrupted and turned upside down. One only has to read “Rich Land Wasteland” by Sharyn Munro to really grasp the effects of the coal and unconventional gas industry. In South Australia, we are now facing proposed shale gas, shale oil and tight gas exploration and proposed projects in the South East of the state, on prime agricultural land and award winning winery territory. Shale samples are currently being analysed as I write this. Also the unconventional gas exploration is taking place in most of the basins in the north of South Australia. Moomba 191 in the Cooper Basin is Australia’s first commercial shale gas well. A huge amount of Eyre Peninsula is earmarked for iron ore mining. We only have 4% prime agricultural and cropping land outside of pastoral areas, for the whole of Australia left, and 4.6% in South Australia. We have a right to protect our agricultural production, and to protect our aquifers ensuring clean food sustainability for generations to come. http://richlandwasteland.com

  10. Anne you’re quite right,in regards to agricultural land, however it must be remembered,as Stanley makes very plain, this very land is already highly degraded and it is the remnant native vegetation that must be considered the top priority to preserve. Of course, due to the nature of the industry, the entire environment will be poisoned and rendered uninhabitable……but hey ! that’s progress.

    • A Water Shade of Pale says

      Highly degraded! Highly degraded you say Ken! Well the hundreds upon hundreds of kangaroo who graze our crops and drink from our water troughs each and every day, never seem to mutter an ounce of complaint…………..

  11. Anniekia you are denouncing the very thing that makes it possible for you to voice your opinions on the internet! Methane gas and oil are used to make the computer or touch phone you type on. How about you let other people enjoy the Fossil fuel powered life that you have enjoyed.

  12. I suggest to those people against the production than turn off your power and don’t drive your car. That’s what they’re doing for you.

  13. Wandoan Baby says

    The least the “dayglos” can do is respect the traffic laws around town. I am a born and bred Wandoaner and constantly witness the “dayglos” in their vehicles breaking the road rules.Regardless wether they are doing any good here is still to be determined but our quiet town has never had the troubles it has now.

  14. Come day Glowday says

    I’m a dayglow…and a nightglow for that matter, work both day & nightshift in a mine. Knockoff at 4.30pm, drive like hell to get to Chinchilla to “buy local” only to find business houses closing right on 5pm. Oh, well off I go to Toowoomba or Brisbane to buy my workboots & shirts, etc etc. Even Jamaica Blue has a sign to say they’ll open for dinner. Been there, shut every night .If you are a business owner, find out when the miners and other workers start and finish. Ring the mines etc. Open early and shut late…like they did in the old days. Even the little townships between Dalby and Chinchilla have no shops. One at Brigalow that misses all the early traffic & can’t even stay open long enough for the nearby mineworkers to grab a paper, milk, bread, let alone dinner or early breakfast. I buy fuel in Chinchilla, groceries at the independent grocer in Chinchilla. I buy from Vinnies in Chinchilla. I have my car serviced there. I go to the medical centre and the chemist and the health food shop there. I have dinner at the pubs and clubs there. I do my banking there. I post letters from there. I have enticed two families to work here. Both have children who attend the Chinchilla State School. Many of my workmates have kids who go to school here. Many people believe the dayglows won’t be missed, yet there is already tonnes of whining about the Wilkie Creek coalmine closure.