'More valuable than gold'

A NEW warning calling for greater research into Australia's groundwater has been welcomed by locals concerned about the burgeoning coal seam gas industry on the Northern Rivers.

The statement, released yesterday by the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, describes Australia's underground water reserves as a "buried treasure" potentially more valuable to our future gross national product than gold, oil, wheat or coal.

It states groundwater will become increasingly critical as the population grows and temperatures rise.

Environmental scientist Boudicca Cerese, from community group Kyogle Against Gas, said her primary concern had always been the lack of information and she believed the warning vindicated the call for a moratorium on the industry until "adequate regional hydro-geological studies" have been undertaken.

"The critical thing it says is that the key to ground water management is knowledge - and I believe we have insufficient knowledge to be going ahead with any coal seam gas exploration," she said.

The centre's director, Professor Craig Simmons, says that ground-water makes up 97% of the world's fresh water, but he expected dependence upon it to grow as the pressure from population growth, climate change, mining, coal seam gas and agriculture intensified.

"In a future where rainfall cannot be relied on, groundwater represents Australia's national water security for the future," Prof Simmons said. "Where our national security is concerned, we should spare no effort to assure it.

"Australia is a dry continent without glaciers, permanent snowfields or large and abundant permanent lakes, where evaporation generally exceeds rainfall across much of our arid and semi-arid continent and groundwater is a critical resource for large parts of this country.

"That's why it is vital that Australians better understand and manage our groundwater resources today."

A spokesperson for Metgasco repeated the company's argument that groundwater was safe from fracking.

"I refer you to a December 5 quote by Mr Brad Mallard, the Executive Director of Mineral Resources and Energy at the Department of Trade & Investment, that said there is not a single documented case of aquifer contamination from CSG activity in Australia," he said.

NSW Greens mining spokesman, Jeremy Buckingham, welcomed the warning, calling on the State Government to heed the centre's advice.

"The CSG industry acknowledges it will use billions of litres of ground- water and introduce toxic chemicals into the underground environment through fracking."

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