Meixsell takes her message Down Under
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GARFIELD COUNTY, Colorado – Gas industry critic Tara Meixsell recently returned from more than two weeks in Australia, where she observed how the Aussies are contending with their own battle with the gas and oil industry.
Meixsell, author of the recently self-published book, “Collateral Damage” and activist in numerous ways in Garfield County, was invited Down Under to help the locals in the State of Queensland come to grips with the issues involved and speak about the same issues as they affect the U.S.
Her costs were paid for her, a deal arranged by noted Australian environmental activist Drew Hutton, she said.
She took part in an Aug. 4 rally at the Parliament building in Brisbane, the state capital, and worked with the television news magazine, “60 Minutes Australia,” which has aired segments about the burgeoning coal-seam-gas industry in the state.
She also participated in the blockade of what she said was “$10 million worth of equipment” that was destined to begin a new drilling operation in an outlying district occupied mostly by subsistence farmers and reclusive, self-reliant pioneers. The critics claimed the drilling was not legal, and won a brief respite after negotiating with the companies involved.
Traveling around the vast region, giving talks about how similar issues are being dealt with in the U.S., and staying in the homes of families along the way, Meixsell described the experience as “such an honor, and I met the most phenomenal people in the world.”
Among the towns and villages she visited was a community bearing her own name, Tara, which is close to the heart of the gas industry operations.
To get at the coal-seam gas, she said, the companies must drill deep underground and bring up the top layer of a local aquifer, known as the Condamine Alluvium, which the Western Downs Alliance website termed “Queensland’s largest freshwater aquifer” and “one of the most important aquifers in the state.”
According to a report on the website, a press investigation resulted in a report that the Alluvium is “at direct risk of being drained as a result of coal seam gas production on the Darling Downs.”
While she was in Australia, speaking to the Post Independent by cell phone, Meixsell was exuberant in her descriptions of the local activists there.
“They’ll lie down in front of the equipment if necessary,” she said.
While she was there, she observed parliamentary elections in the state, in which a Green candidate won – at least partly based on opposition to the coal-seam gas industry.
“This is one of the hot-button issues,” Meixsell said of the electoral contest, explaining that “the landowners are asking for a complete moratorium” on drilling until more studies can be done about possible negative effects.
“The awareness has been growing across the state,” said Queensland landowner and protester Michael Bretherick. “We’re not going to let them trample our land, trample our planet. They don’t give a rat’s ass about what we think, they don’t give a rat’s ass about our laws. We’re not going to let them in. We’ll block the roads, we will harass them.”
But, he insisted, all tactics will be non-violent, although he mused, “They’re more likely to get violent with us.”
He said he had been putting himself through a crash course about gas and oil production, corporate complexities and other unfamiliar areas of learning.
“I’ve had to go from a point of complete ignorance about the whole thing,” Bretherick said, his accent strong and his anger clear, as he criticized what he said are “mostly multinationals” such as Halliburton and Exxon, working with local companies for cover.
He explained that the wide basin of relatively remote land that lies above the coal seams is sparsely populated by self-sufficient, hardy families.
“We are identified by our government as socially underprivileged,” he continued. “We live below the poverty line,” growing gardens, raising chickens and other small livestock.
“We consider ourselves to be rich,” he declared. “We’ve got our own lives, our own land,” a 160-acre parcel and “a humble house.”
Sounding bitter, he added that the government has always held the rights to minerals beneath the surface, and that all that has now been transferred to the energy corporations.
“They sold it out from underneath us,” he said. “We’ve had to become lawyers. We’ve had to learn how to talk to politicians, we’ve had to learn the mechanics of the industry. I came here to retire with my children. I did not come here to do this.”
Among the concerns of the area landowners, he said, is the possible depletion of the aquifer, coupled with the fact that the water being raised to the surface by the drillers is believed to be highly toxic and is bring spread out on local road surfaces for lack of any other disposal method.
“They’re spreading the stuff all over the roads,” he complained, “millions of gallons of contaminated water.”
Meixsell added that there have been reports of serious illness among children in the area, ranging from severe headaches to nosebleeds and bleeding from the ears, fatigue, loss of memory and mental confusion.
“I’m trying to let them know that these health impacts [are] not a new thing,” Meixsell said, noting that similar ailments have been reported among residents living near gas drilling operations in Garfield County.
In addition to her speaking engagements and other activities, Meixsell arranged a showing of the award-winning film “Split Estate,” by producer Deb Anderson, on which Meixsell served as a consultant. The film, which came out late last year, has been condemned by the energy industry, but was nominated for an Emmy this year.
Another film that has gotten a good reception in Queensland is “Gasland” by Josh Fox, which recently garnered a Peace Award from the Lennon/Ono Foundation, Meixsell said.
“These people are furious,” Meixsell remarked, adding, “It’s not one little group of noisy people,” but is a growing movement throughout Queensland.
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