The warning by the NSW health department about the serious health risks involved in coal-seam gas (CSG) mining has been seized on by the northern rivers anti-CSG lobby to call for an immediate halt to the industry till the full impacts on safety are known.
It has also been used by national grassroots community lobby group GetUp! to push its campaign to stop local communities becoming gasfields, urging members to sign an online petition to their local MPs against the controversial CSG industry.
The moves come as local CSG miner Metgasco continues its CSG test-drilling program on the north coast at Glenugie, south of Grafton, where a blockade and ongoing protests resulted in around 26 arrests earlier this month.
Another protest camp has sprung up at the company’s test site at Doubtful Creek near Kyogle.
The Sydney Morning Herald this week revealed that NSW Health has warned about the serious health risks involved in CSG mining and exposed the failure of the government to properly assess those risks.
According to the SMH report, NSW Health, through its southwest Sydney branch, says ‘comprehensive assessment would be required to establish the full range of potential health risks’.
These ‘may include risks associated with air pollution, ground and surface water contamination and noise. The information available does not allow a comprehensive assessment of potential risks to human health.’
Lock the Gate Tweed spokesperson Michael McNamara said the South West Sydney Local Health District call for a full community health impact study before operations begin ‘is a welcome voice of sanity and reason from within a government that is generally out of touch with community views and concerns about the CSG industry’.
‘Public health authorities in the Tweed should adopt a similar position,’ Mr McNamara told Echonetdaily.
‘Residents of the Tweed are already under threat from the exploration licence held by Arrow Energy and the application for a Special Prospecting Authority by the NSW State Aboriginal Land Council.
‘Before any work is allowed to commence there should be a comprehensive, independent study of community health.
‘Reports from the Tara area in central Queensland of severe health impacts are of great concern.
‘Doctors in the Tara area are so concerned about seeing a pattern of “symptoms consistent with gas exposure” that they reported their concerns to the Queensland branch of the AMA.
‘Residents near Tara report children with nosebleeds, bleeding from the ear and severe skin rashes since CSG operations commenced.
‘We do not want these problems in the Tweed.
‘The bleatings of the CSG industry in relation to health impacts is reminiscent of the efforts of tobacco companies in the 50s and 60s.
‘What is needed is comprehensive and independent baseline testing of health as well as water and air quality and environmental health.
‘We can only really know the impacts if we have a clear picture of the state of health of our people, our water, our land and our air before CSG operations commence,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Metgasco has not ruled out using the controversial technique of fracking at its CSG wells on the north coast.
But spokesman Richard Shields says, ‘CSG generally doesn’t need fracking’ and claims it’s an established and safe practice, widely used for decades in the oil industry.
(Fracking is a technique where a mix of water, sand and chemicals is pumped under high pressure into the drill well to ‘fracture’ rock deep underground and extract the coal-gas from the rock pores to the production well. CSG opponents say it also allows gases to leak into aquifers and the surface, endangering human health and contaminating water sources.)
Mr Shields said its test-drilling program underway at Glenugie was going ‘full steam ahead’ and approved test drilling would continue at its sites at Doubtful Creek and Whiporie (between Lismore and Casino) soon.
He said the core-sample wells at the three sites were ‘very different’ from ‘conventional wells’, which would not be drilled for six to 12 months.
Meanwhile, GetUp! says the NSW government has replaced the entire board of the Sydney Catchment Authority and appointed the former director of two of Australia’s largest mining companies as chairman, describing it as a major win for the CSG industry.
GetUp! members are being rallied to ‘ask your MP to protect our homes, land and water from CSG’ by visiting: www.getup.org.au/broken-promises.
And the head of clay and concrete manufacturer Brickworks says protests against coal-seam gas appear to have slowed the development of more wells and limited new gas supply.
Managing director, Lindsay Partridge, also says the process to approve new CSG operations is too slow and the federal government needs to intervene.
‘The anti-coal-seam gas lobby has stopped or delayed the timely production of gas, as well as a very complicated process where many of these wells have to go through both state and federal approval process,’ he told ABC News.
The ABC report says some manufacturing leaders have called for a reservation policy, that would see a proportion of Australian gas production set aside for domestic industry, but federal energy minister Martin Ferguson says such an approach is unlikely to work.