Exploration licences for a lignite project and shale gas exploration issued by the SA government cover a 1153 square kilometre area that extends deep into the already stressed Coorong, a Ramsar listed Wetland of International Importance.
Both projects are believed to pose an "extremely high" risk to aquifers. The lignite is situated between an unconfined and a confined aquifer, estimated to obtain 30 percent of the state's potable water. Previous drilling in the area resulted in salt being released from the sub-aquifers into the potable confined aquifer and bore heads several kilometres away ceased flowing.
The South Australian Government's submission to the Parliament's Natural Resources Committee (NRC) Inquiry into Unconventional Gas (Fracking) in January 2015 from confirms the critical importance to the State of the water resource. The submission notes:
Groundwater in the South East is a highly valued resource as it is the only source for potable water supply...for a population of 65,000, and is relied upon by agriculture...and industry. Industrial uses include wineries, timber processing, paper manufacture, and in the operation of farm dairies, sale yards, and abattoirs. Agricultural uses include irrigation of pastures, fruit (includes vineyards and orchards), crops...as well as use by forests. Additionally, groundwater in the SE is inherently linked to groundwater dependent ecosystems such as wetlands.
Despite acknowledging the critical importance of its water source, the government is content to rely on "good industry practices" as its guarantee of no harm. Its submission states:
The key to preventing potential contamination of shallow, potable aquifers are good industry practices as deployed for all petroleum well construction targeting oil and/or gas in both conventional and unconventional reservoirs in South Australia.