The Greens have joined a chorus of condemnation over the state government’s recently released coal and gas exploration licence audit, calling it a ‘farce’.
Greens MP and NSW mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham told Echonetdaily that it failed to even identify major environmental issues that have already been publicly reported.
‘It appears that not one of the 20 environmental and safety incidents self-reported by Santos at its Pillaga site have made it into the government’s audit report. You would think that even if the government noted the company’s action to self-report and that it would still be included in the official figures,’ Mr Buckingham said.
In a media release issued today, the government described last week’s report as ‘a state-wide audit of all coal and coal seam gas exploration licences’.
In fact, the first phase was a ‘desktop’ audit only. And the report itself admits that out of a total 187 coal exploration licences (ELs) and 49 petroleum (coal-seam gas) exploration licences (PELs), just 20 ELs and 22 PELs were identified and then targeted for Phase 2. Only Phase 2 involved a detailed, so-called independent audit to identify licence-holder compliance with all conditions.
These ‘independent’ audits, including preparation of the audit reports, were carried out by auditors directly engaged by the licence-holders.
The Santos/Eastern Star Pillaga site was not included in the Phase 2 audit, despite Santos having confessed to spills of contaminated groundwater into the Pillaga State Forest last year, at a time when the PEL was held by Eastern Star.
Mr Buckingham went further in his condemnation of the audit, saying the department that issues the licences should not be responsible for auditing licence-holders or identifying what actions should be taken when they are found to have committed breaches.
‘The issue is there is an inherent conflict of interest with Energy and Resources, which is the licensing body, conducting the audits. It has an agenda of seeing these gas and mining projects developed. They should be conducted by the EPA as is the case once developments are up and running,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘There are no teeth. Imagine if an individual was killing vegetation and polluting creeks. At a local government level they would be subject to very serious fines and potentially prosecution. These companies appear to get away with it with impunity,’ he said.
Yesterday Lock the Gate – Tweed called for suspension of local licence-holder Arrow Energy over its non-compliance with licence conditions at its Northern Rivers exploration sites.
But in the report, under the heading of ‘Action Undertaken by Division of Resources & Energy’ is the ambiguous response ‘corrective action sought from licence-holder’.
There is no suggestion of fines or tougher licence conditions contained in the report.
Echonetdaily twice sought answers to a list of questions from the minister Chris Hartcher yesterday but no response was received by deadline.