Story & photo Dominic Feain
The Greens have thrown down the gauntlet to the major parties on CSG, going so far as to call on the members for Page and Richmond to quit the Labor Party if it continues to support the industry.
NSW Greens coal seam gas spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham was in Lismore yesterday with his federal counterpart, Senator Larissa Waters, to spruik their CSG credentials.
‘It’s up to Justine Elliot and Janelle Saffin to get serious on CSG, if not they should get out of the Labor Party,’ Mr Buckingham said.
‘You can’t be the member of a political party that’s pushing coal seam gas then tell your local community you’re against it – if they can’t represent their community then they should quit the party and run as independents.
‘At the moment they’re being hypocritical in their opposition to coal seam gas because they’re in a party that unleashed this industry across NSW and Queensland and is still supporting it.’
Senator Waters said coal seam gas was firmly on the federal election agenda and the community had made itself clear in its opposition to it.
She said it was time for state and federal governments to step up.
‘We’re seeing more and more communities standing firm against coal seam gas companies and they’re winning,’ Ms Waters said.
‘When people stick together and oppose coal seam gas then the CSG companies have nowhere to go – which is exactly why we think those people, who are just standing up to protect their own land and the future of their groundwater so their kids can farm that land, shouldn’t have to commit an offence to lock the gate.
Both Ms Waters and Mr Buckingham have moved amendments in the NSW and federal upper houses allowing landholders the right to refuse access to resource companies.
‘They should be given the legal right to lock the gate given we know coal seam gas has so many scientific uncertainties associated with it, and all of the science we do have is saying this stuff is dangerous.
‘We just don’t know what we’re doing long-term to our water; we think it leaks (methane) like a sieve which is terrible for the climate … this is not the answer to our energy needs. Given all the risks and concerns let’s let them lock their gates and not make them criminals for doing so.’
Ms Waters said the Greens were closely aligned with Lock the Gate and the NSW Farmers Association’s positions supporting landholders’ right to refuse land access agreements.
‘In terms of the access agreements, clearly this is both a state and federal issue and our amendments are importantly not proposing that the federal government take anything off the states, clearly the states are not doing a good job but the solution is not to just transfer the problems from one government to another, it’s to give another level of oversight to make sure those national aspects like our national water table can be properly protected by our national government,’ Ms Waters said.
‘My amendments compliment Jeremy’s (in the NSW parliament) and require landholders to get both legal advice and scientific advice before they say yes – though we’ve found most people when they hear the science, and realise they have no legal rights, don’t want to say yes, they want to say no.’
Mr Buckingham said the Greens were coordinating their response at a federal and state level and called on both Janelle Saffin and Justine Elliot to support them.
‘They either support our amendments before the Australian Senate and the NSW Legislative Council, or they should be held to account.’
The MPs were on the first day of a two-day tour of CSG sites on the north coast.
Yesterday they travelled to the abandoned Glenugie blockade site and Grafton and today will visit Dundurrabin and Coffs Harbour.
Before they stopped in Lismore yesterday they visited landholders at Dobies Bight near Casino where CSG activity has been underway for years.
‘We’re hoping the local representatives… get the government to back our amendments to give landholders the right to say no because there is so much damage being done to the land and so much potential for long-term impacts on ground water, food production and simply community amenity as well.
‘People shouldn’t have to take the risk their land will be destroyed for years to come because their water source has dried up.
‘We’ve just come from a property out at Dobies Bight where a lovely old couple, the Goulburns, had retired for the peace and quiet,’ Ms Waters said.
‘Yet 200 metres from their house was a coal seam gas well that was flaring for two years, and they have had two years of an oil film on their water tanks which has only now just cleared up presumably because they stopped drilling.
‘They showed me the evaporation pond where they put the water from the coal seam. It was lined with really thick pool lining but apparently when it was removed just recently it had all been eroded away, so God knows what was in the water, but you do not want that sort of stuff sinking into your drinking water catchments.
‘Apparently [the concreting] was also done in a haphazard way and that’s precisely the concern we’ve always had – if you’re punching a hole through an aquifer to get to a coal seam, you’ve got to bloody seal it or you’ll end up contaminating that groundwater.’
Ms Waters gave credit to the federal government for its moves to protect groundwater but said their protections didn’t go far enough.
‘It should have a role in protecting water nationally, but to not give landholders the right to say no; in just picking coal seam gas and ignoring shale and tight gas and other forms of unconventional gas around the country; in just acting to do the bare minimum where it’s politically convenient, [is] not going to give landholders the security they need.’