Rather than wait for adequate baseline studies from within the coal-seam gas (CSG) mining industry or government agencies, last night Lismore City Council (LCC) in its final meeting for the year voted to encourage a CSG Health Impact Assessment and further groundwater investigations with the involvement of the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) and the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD).
LCC also considered the installation of signs at the entrances to Lismore displaying the community’s overwhelming opposition to CSG mining in the northern rivers.
Councillor Simon Clough believes there is a ‘chronic lack of baseline data’ surrounding the CSG mining industry, hence he put forward the notice of motion (Cr Scheibel against) that LCC approach the NNSWLHD to request that it carry out a Health Impact Assessment on the effects of CSG production on local residents and that Council also offer to assist the NNSWLHD with the assessment.
Cr Clough noted physiological and psychological impacts of CSG mining that are coming out of southeast Queensland, particularly in Tara, and highlighted the local problem of having no baseline data studies here.
‘It comes down to the proponents of CSG mining saying these illnesses would have happened anyway and those against CSG mining saying they never happened before.
‘I’m hoping that this approach to gathering more data will help us; if CSG mining goes ahead we have some comparisons for population health.
‘It would also be important to get a desktop study on the literature of CSG mining so we have more information to make better decisions.’
More studies needed
Cr Mathew Scheibel agreed that more studies and data are needed but feels that ‘it is up to the industry and government body to provide that. I’m not sure that it is our position to be pushing that; it should be up to the industry itself.’
Cr Clough responded by saying, ‘to leave the CSG mining industry in charge of this is to put the fox in charge of the hen house. They do not have any background data on impacts to water, air, health etc. Look at Gladstone for instance, where there are the most horrendous impacts to the Gladstone harbour where it is biologically impaired because of CSG, and there has been no response whatsoever from the CSG industry.’
Cr Vanessa Ekins joined Cr Clough with her drive for obtaining more baseline data of our natural resources when motion was passed by the majority (Cr Scheibel against) of councillors. She proposed that council request NOROC to investigate the benefits of jointly funding research with SCU on baseline data collection on pre-CSG groundwater, with a view to providing $30,000 a year for three years to match available Australian Research Council funding.
NOROC is made up of the member councils and each council contributes funds, in the vicinity of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to NOROC every year. NOROC then chooses which regional projects will be funded.
In addition to existing SCU funding, Cr Ekins explained that ‘the $30,000 pa can employ a couple of PhD students in gathering background information on the chemical makeup of our air and water and costs associated in operating the equipment in the lab. This is the major opposition to the CSG industry that there are no data.
‘At the recent “lack of information” meeting held in Lismore on Wednesday, the panel were asked how many monitoring wells there were in the region, which they could not answer. There are about five that the Office of Water is looking after: one in Kyogle, one in Casino, two in Lismore and one in Ballina.
‘All they measure is flow, temperature, tepidity and conductivity… this is not enough information. This is an opportunity for us to get more information. We are not actually contributing funds, just asking NOROC to consider. It might actually be a deterrent to the CSG industry as we will have these crucial background data.’
Cr Scheibel reinforced his earlier position that ‘this information should be provided by the industry.’
Cr Ekins responded by saying that the ‘industry have met their legislative requirements, which are inadequate. They are not required to provide baseline data so we need to go in and arm ourselves with information.’
Water a critical issue
Cr Clough supported the motion as ‘water is a critical issue. Huge amounts of produced water come out of CSG wells, which have natural toxins and are heavily saline. That water will not be restricted to the so-called holding ponds… we can expect that to be spread out all over our extraordinarily rich agricultural areas. Saline water is detrimental to all forms of plant life and not too good for other life as well.
‘The other issue is the coal-seam water that can permeate into the aquifer, which the industry claims does not happen. I think it is incredibly important to get these background data and NOROC is the place to do it because it does have a regional focus and water knows no boundaries.
‘Let’s take into account the historic economic activities of our area: macadamias, sugar cane, dairy etc. These are industries that contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to our region and they are at risk. If our water is polluted, this will have a huge impact on our existing industries and employment.’
Cr Clough put forward the notice of motion (Crs Scheibel and Bennett against) that council be briefed on costs and wording associated with signs to be placed at the gateways to Lismore, informing visitors and locals of the strong opposition to CSG mining in the local government area (LGA).
Cr Clough told council ‘that contrary to comments by Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson about the number of people who voted, only 2.8 per cent of people [who voted in the council election] didn’t vote in the CSG poll. So to put it mildly, it was an overwhelming result’.
‘In addition we have the community CSG-free road surveys carried out; overall there have been 12,000 surveys done, some outside our LGA, but that’s over 70 communities. The return of people opposed to CSG in that survey process has been 96.4 per cent.
‘These signs are far beyond symbolic; they represent the will of the people… they ensure that there is no social licence for this activity that so many of us oppose.’
Based on five signs, Cr Clough believes that the costs would not exceed $1200 in total.
Deputy Mayor Clough used his time to defend claims by Mr Henderson that the CSG poll was ‘fraudulent’.
‘Fraudulent is a legal term used to describe someone who has acted or intended to deceive. To make this accusation against Council or the NSW Electoral Commission or the proponents of the anti-CSG movement is quite significant.
‘Mr Henderson has in no way made a case for that criminality and I suggest that he needs to apologise to this community.’