Six months ago the NSW parliamentary committee inquiry into coal-seam gas (CSG) tabled a report that was quite critical of the industry and included 35 strong recommendations, including a moratorium on fracking and on issuing production licences.
After six months the NSW Liberal/National coalition government has responded with a clear statement – it plans to green-light a CSG industry in NSW.
In response to the committee’s 35 recommendations the government has claimed its Strategic Regional Land Use Policy (SRLUP) represents ‘the strictest controls in Australia’. The Greens fundamentally disagree and here is why:
- The SRLUP fails to rule out CSG on productive agricultural land and within our communities. The proposed ‘gateway’ process has no red light, meaning projects will either be approved or approved with conditions by the new gateway panel. Far from protecting productive agricultural land and sensitive environmental areas, there is no mechanism in the plan to say no to a project over a farm, in our drinking water catchments or within our communities.
- 2. The northern regions of NSW will not get a Strategic Regional Land Use Plan. The government has only committed to updating regional strategies within two years but with no specific timetable. Meanwhile, without a regional plan in place Metgasco’s petroleum production licence has been approved. Allowing development before regional planning is conducted makes a mockery of the entire SRLUP process.
- The supposed ban on evaporation ponds is full of exemptions. The recommendation to ‘ban open storage of produced water’ has been effectively ignored by the government. They are allowing temporary storage as part of water-treatment process and for storage before ‘beneficial use’. No timeframes are put on this ‘temporary’ storage strategy. The evaporation-pond ban is effectively a public-relations exercise and the result is an ongoing risk of spills and surface water contamination.
- The new land and water commissioner is just a facilitator for gas. Far from being an advocate for farmers and communities, the prime role of the new but yet to be appointed land and water commissioner is to oversee land-access arrangements. The committee report called for a more powerful ombudsman but this government will put in place a commissioner that will ensure the information provided to landholders helps smooth the way for access by coal-seam gas companies. There will be no authority in place to protect the community.
- 5. The Regional Community Funds are little more than a bribe. The committee recommendation was for a royalty-for-regions program. Instead the government plans a voluntary contribution scheme that will reduce a company’s royalty obligation and allow them to direct a portion of this obligation towards local projects. This ignores the legitimate concerns of groups like the NSW Farmers Association and large local employers like NORCO who see CSG as a huge risk to existing local industries. A token contribution by CSG companies will not offset lost employment and other social and economic costs from a CSG industry.
Far from recognising the legitimate concerns of the north coast community about the environmental, economic, social and health impacts of CSG, the government has put in place a program to assist the CSG industry to roll out across the region. A sustainable vision for the north coast would include supporting local agriculture, developing a renewable energy industry and encouraging tourism
I expect that the community will reject this response by the government to the committee’s detailed report and will continue to implement their own moratorium on the CSG industry. The Greens will continue to support the north coast in their campaign for a CSG-free community and to have the right to decide their own economic future when it comes to what industries they pursue, how they meet local energy needs.
Jeremy Buckingham is a Greens MP with the portfolios of mining, agriculture and regional development, and was deputy chair of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Coal-Seam Gas.
Video: A disturbing interview with a family from Wieanbilla, near Tara in Queensland, who are suffering with a range of ailments they believe are associated with the CSG well a kilometre from their home.