A psychology researcher is nearing completion of a comprehensive study into the mental health impacts coal seam gas exploration may have on farmers.
University of New England PhD candidate Methuen Morgan, formerly a farmer at Condamine in Queensland, has spent the past two years surveying over 400 farmers on their feelings of coal seam gas explorations.
Mr Morgan said he was nearing the end of his thesis titled ‘David vs Goliath’.
“It looks like we’re seeing some interesting profiles occurring with regards to stress,” he said.
“Most of the stress constructs within our measure are usual stressers, so they’re things that farmers are familiar with like droughts, floods, bank managers, and commodity price fluctuations but my speculation is that coal seam gas, or extractive industries in general, is a unique man-made stresser.
“They don’t feel like they have any control over it, rightly or wrongly, and this has come from out of left field and they’re not equipped to deal with it.”
Mr Morgan said the empirical data this would produce makes the project quite unique.
“The survey comprised of 378 questions looking at a range of behaviours in relation to coal seam gas,” he said.
“We looked at trust, resilience, coping, and place attachment so it was a fairly comprehensive survey.
“The vast majority of participants have been Queenslanders and New South Welshmen which is quite unsurprising given that that’s where most of the coal seam gas action’s been taking place.”
A difference of opinion
Methuen Morgan said farmers have a profound sense of tolerance for differing opinions on the issue of coal seam gas.
“That particular scenario has the potential of actually dividing communities,” he said.
“The fact that it hasn’t to any great extent at this point in time is probably as a result of a level of tolerance that farmers have to others and to differing opinions and attitudes, and the decision to be at each end of the spectrum has a certain element of logic.
“There is nonetheless a certain amount of concern amongst the farming community about the impacts, this industry is still in its infancy and the full ramifications are yet to be seen.”
Despite having previously been a farmer, Mr Morgan said he’s tried to keep his own feelings about coal seam gas out of the process, and has focussed on producing objective, unbiased findings.
“As an ex-farmer from Condamine, which is right smack in the middle of the coal seam gas fields up there, I obviously have some concerns,” he said.
“But having moved to the Tablelands down at Armidale and given that none of our funding is from anything apart from the usual university sources, there’s no influence or bias there.”
Methuen’s not ready to pencil in a date just yet for when he’ll release the findings but he gave assurances that it would be well worth the wait.
“It’s kind of a watch this space with the coal seam gas research,” he said.
“I think that Australia’s a little behind the eight-ball with regards to coal seam gas and research associated with its impacts, but my suspicion is that we’re catching up fast to the United States.”