The announcement by NSW premier Barry O’Farrell yesterday that coal-seam gas mining will now be forbidden within a two-kilometre radius of residential areas was welcomed by some, but CSG activists say it still fails to protect small communities, prime agricultural land and native forests.
North coast federal ALP MPs, a prominent Greens senator and activists have all hit out at the premier’s selective protection of the towns and cities at the expense of the countryside and rural residents.
‘The new restrictions do nothing to protect many communities currently under threat in the northern rivers, or elsewhere,’ said Lock the Tweed spokesperson Michael McNamara.
‘Our productive agricultural lands are still under threat. Our environmentally sensitive areas are still at risk to the threat of CSG operations. Our local villages are still very much under threat from CSG,’ he said.
ALP federal Page MP Janelle Saffin and Richmond MP Justine Elliot say the announcement ‘completely ignores the concerns of north coast local residents’.
Both continue to hit out against state Nationals MPs, Geoff Provest, Don Page, Thomas George and Chris Gulaptis, with Ms Elliot saying they are either ‘are unwilling or unable to represent locals’ over the issue.
Ms Saffin told ABC radio this morning she was calling on the Nationals MPs ‘to get an exclusion zone so we are CSG free here in the northern rivers’.
Mr McNamara echoed their sentiments, calling for the Nationals MPs to ‘stand up for their constituents and their local communities by putting pressure on the state government to extend these restrictions to productive agricultural land, environmentally sensitive areas and local villages that fail to meet the benchmark set by the new policy’.
He added that the new regulations ‘are so vague and undefined that they give no confidence to local communities like Tyalgum, Crystal Creek, Chillingham or Stokers Siding’.
But north coast minister and Ballina MP Don Page told ABC that the regulations ‘will exclude every local town and village’.
‘We are doing things that are designed to protect the community. At the same time we have to have energy,’ he said.
Water supply not secure
Mr McNamara said, however, that even people in larger towns could still be affected because the new regulations still allow energy companies to drill in water catchments.
‘While the new restrictions would prohibit drilling in Banora Point and Tweed Heads South they will not protect the water supply to those areas.
‘Dart Energy, the new owner of the exploration licence covering most of the south-west of the shire (PEL445), still has the capacity under current approvals to drill in the catchment of Clarrie Hall Dam, the main water supply for the Tweed.’
Mr Page said the new regulations would protect catchments and that he would meet with Ms Saffin next week about her concerns.
City vs bush
Australian Greens leader Senator Christine Milne said the new regulations were ‘too little too late’ and accused Premier O’Farrell of ‘using coal-seam gas as a political football to facilitate votes for Tony Abbott in western Sydney’.
He’s not concerned at all about agricultural land, water or the environment.
‘It’s completely unacceptable after giving the green light to coal-seam gas all over NSW, having pushed and promoted coal mining and coal expansion at Whitehaven and Boggabri and cheering on the massive Gloucester CSG field to pretend he now cares about the impacts of coal-seam gas.
‘It is too little, too late, for Barry O’Farrell.
‘Who would believe that there would be any rigour to environmental impacts of coal-seam gas permits given recent history.’