Environmental groups have given the state government’s new CSG legislation the thumbs down, saying it doesn’t give much more power to landholders and fails to protect local communities, wildlife, natural areas and groundwater resources.
Yesterday, resources and energy minister Chris Hartcher released the much-anticipated new draft legislation, including a proposed code of practice for CSG explorers, strategic regional land use plans an aquifer interference policy and community consultation guidelines, saying that the gas mining industry could co-exist with farming and protection of the environment if properly managed.
Lock The Gate Alliance has described the land use plans and aquifer interference policy as ‘just more broken promises’ and said the fight will continue to prevent coal and gas mining from wrecking NSW.
‘Yesterday’s announcement makes it clear that the Northern Rivers has been completely left out of the strategic regional land use assessment process, giving the green light to industry to turn our beautiful region into an industrial zone.’ said Boudicca Cerese, Lock the Gate Alliance regional co-ordinator for Northern Rivers.
Nature Conservation Council of NSW CEO Pepe Clarke said ‘the draft land use plans do not provide clear and certain protection for iconic natural areas, public lands and water supply catchments.’
‘The plans carefully map high conservation value areas, but then offer no clear legal means of ensuring their ongoing protection,’ he added.
Jeff Angel, executive director of Total Environment Centre, said that while the plan was a step in the right direction, it was not a big enough one.
‘The protection of strategic agricultural lands and high conservation values is left to a process which can sideline water protection and be sidelined itself if the government deems the project to be “exceptional”,’ he said.
‘There’s no certainty for sustainable agriculture nor threatened habitats. As a consequence the O’Farrell government will become embroiled in the attrition of project-by-project decisions – as communities object and campaign; and mining companies seek special exemptions and weak consent conditions,’ he predicted.
Releasing the legislation yesterday, minister Hartcher said ‘the code of practice is a landmark requirement that will apply to licence holders to ensure strong standards are set for the CSG industry during the exploration stage.’
He added that the new community consultation guidelines would improve interactions between communities and coal-seam gas explorers.
‘The coal-seam gas industry in NSW is now subject to the toughest controls in Australia,’ Mr Hartcher said.
‘The NSW government is doubling fines to ensure companies are held to account for any unauthorised activity during the exploration stage, including damage to private or Crown land.
‘We are also reviewing the security bonds currently held by the NSW government to guarantee there are enough funds to rehabilitate any potential damage to land.’