A damning report by a doctors’ group assessing the impact of coal seam gas CSG production on people’s health has given new impetus to opponents of the industry on the north coast.
The report, released this week, calls for urgent national reforms including mandatory health checks for communities exposed to CSG production, given the failure of governments and industry to protect communities from the new boom industry.
Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA), part of an international network of doctors who deal with disease linked to environmental destruction, say that unchecked pollution from coal and CSG projects was creating a ‘costly legacy for Australia’ that was being picked up by the healthcare sector.
DEA spokesperson David Shearman said, ‘the social and financial costs of this pollution are not being measured or factored in when projects are given the go-ahead’.
‘Those who believe Australian resource projects are operating with world’s best practice are simply mistaken. What we are seeing is a trend to cutting green tape without consideration of the consequences,’ Dr Shearman said.
The report describes how cardio-respiratory and other diseases in nearby communities are likely to be caused or exacerbated by pollution from coal mining and transport.
The report also points out that the research and regulation on coal seam gas lags well behind these developments, and the degree to which they harm human health is not yet understood.
It also describes cases where coal projects have been allowed to pollute at levels known to compromise human health and where inadequate monitoring of air quality disguises the dangers.
The report, The Health Factor: Ignored by industry, overlooked by government, accuses industry and government of putting profits ahead of people.
‘It is clear that state government approvals of coal and CSG projects are often influenced by potential economic gain without thorough assessment of potential harms,’ Dr Shearman said.
The report’s release coincides with the arrival of the federal government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill in the Senate this week
The Bill to tighten regulation of the rapidly expanding industry was widely, though cautiously, welcomed by landowners and commentators when it passed the lower house in March.
Page MP Janelle Saffin on Tuesday accused the federal coalition of duplicity after shadow parliamentary secretary on the environment, Senator Simon Birmingham, promised to dismantle the federal government’s water protection measures if elected.
‘The coalition is in a spot. They don’t like the CSG water protection measures, but they don’t want CSG to be an election issue because of the strong community campaign,’ Ms Saffin said.
‘While National Party candidate Kevin Hogan says he opposes CSG, the coalition he represents has declared it will undo the government’s water protection measures if elected. He has to do more than say he doesn’t like it.’
Mr Hogan said in March that the legislation would not impact on current exploration activities on the northern rivers, conceding only that it had the potential to ‘complement protections already imposed by the O’Farrell government’.
‘At face value the proposal is in line with the Nationals’ policy platform that there should be no coal seam gas where it can impact on the quality of groundwater or surface water systems, where it can impact on prime agricultural land; neither should it be allowed near residential areas,’ Mr Hogan said.
Meanwhile, the Greens are pushing amendments to give landholders the final say on access rights for CSG companies.
The federal Greens mining spokesperson, Larissa Waters, on Tuesday said the Greens were ‘standing with the community on coal seam gas’.
‘Tony Abbott is a wolf in sheep’s clothing on coal seam gas. He’s telling rural communities they should be able to stop coal seam gas mining companies from coming onto their land but then doing nothing about it in Canberra,’ Senator Waters said.
‘Only the Greens are working to give landholders the right to say no to coal seam gas on their land and moving to extend new water protections to shale and tight gas mining.’
NSW Greens mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham promised similar amendments to legislation in the NSW parliament, saying farmers had the right to say no to CSG exploration on their land.
Mr Buckingham said the only existing legislation to protect landowners allowed mining companies to force arbitration to gain access if a landholder rejects an access agreement.
He was scathing of north coast National MPs Thomas George (Lismore), Don Page (Ballina), Geoff Provest (Tweed) and Chris Gulaptis (Clarence) for not ‘standing up’ for their communities on the issue.
‘This is the key issue. They should vote for these amendments whether or not these exploration companies can come onto people’s land at any cost,’ he said.
‘We will move amendments to the Bill that remove the arbitration provisions, meaning mining companies and landholders must come to a voluntary agreement, rather than the mining company being able to force their way onto a property through arbitration.
‘These amendments will test the commitment of local members to protecting their constituents’ rights to farm or otherwise enjoy their property without a mining company forcing its way on.’