A number of north coast villages do not appear on the state government’s increased list of residential areas to be protected from coal seam gas exploration and mining.
Yesterday the state government announced it had zoned 40,000 hectares of residential land on the north coast free of CSG mining and exploration but local councils were left scrambling to discover whether their requests to include local villages had been met.
While some small villages in the region, including Goonengerry and Modanville, were included on the government’s list, Ballina Shire Council confirmed that Newrybar and Tintenbar remain open to CSG miners.
The Lismore villages of Rosebank and Richmond Hill, along with a number of others, are also still under threat.
Last year Ballina Council submitted a request to the sate government review to include Newrybar and Tintenbar.
Ballina mayor David Wright told ABC north coast yesterday, ‘both of those villages are in water-catchment areas and I would have thought that would have given them priority’.
A spokesperson for Lismore City Council said ‘Richmond Hill, McLeans Ridges and Coffee Camp were assessed by the government against the village criteria and did not satisfy all three criteria.
‘Goolmangar is zoned RU5 and [now] protected by residential exclusion zones,’ she said.
‘Rosebank and Jiggi (zoned RU1 – Primary Production) were not considered against residential exclusion zone criteria as they were not zoned R5, ‘ she added.
Meanwhile, Byron Shire Council’s executive manager of planning, Ray Darney, said the exclusions zones did not go far enough for Byron Shire.
‘Council submitted back in April 2013 that our Shire does not support CSG exploration, nor the production, in our area and should be totally prohibited,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘It also requested that the prohibition on exploration and mining should also be extended to exclude any areas within two kilometres of zoned R5 Rural/Residential zones and E Zones within the shire.
‘The map provided was not detailed enough to see if that request has been considered or not, but it would not appear so,’ Mr Darney said.
The government said 250,000 hectares of valuable farmland on the north coast would be safeguarded by the much-vaunted ‘gateway’ process, but again their information was short on detail.
Most is believed to be in the upper Hunter Valley, where viticulture and horse-breeding activities have been given special significance.
Both sides of the battle have decried the new regulations, with the CEO of Metgasco, Peter Henderson, telling ABC radio this morning they ‘had no basis in science’, adding ‘there is no risk that can’t be managed with coal seam gas’.
But CSG opponents and farmers’ advocates say the rule changes are mere window-dressing.
‘These exclusion zones leave almost 75 million hectares without protection and leave key water resources and sensitive environmental areas at risk from unrestrained coal seam gas development,’ said Nature Conservation Council campaigns director Kate Smolski.
She added the threat of CSG development is still very real for more than 90 per cent of NSW.
‘Drinking water catchments are still not protected, neither are important natural assets such as the Pilliga Forest, which is set to be carved up and polluted by gas development.’
She described the gateway process as flawed, ‘because the panel has no power to refuse. The gateway is permanently propped open, leaving productive agricultural land exposed to mining and gas development.’
The Greens’ NSW spokesperson on mining Jeremy Buckingham has called on the government to increase the land area protected from coal seam gas.
He said only 3.37 per cent of NSW was protected from fracking in its latest CSG reforms, adding that many productive agricultural areas and water resources, as well as key tourist and environmental areas, are still under threat.
‘Ninety-six per cent of NSW, including most agricultural, environmental and tourism areas, can still be turned into a gas field,’ he said.
The Lock the Gate Alliance (LTGA) said there is still a long way to go to protect land and water resources from CSG mining, and that yesterday’s announcement fell far short of community expectations.
‘The announcements are mostly smoke and mirrors by the NSW government – they have gazetted some important agricultural areas as Strategic Agricultural Land, but done absolutely nothing to protect those areas,’ said LTGA spokesperson Phil Laird.
‘The government’s claims that it is striking a “balanced position” simply don’t ring true, because gas mining giants still have the powers to force themselves onto farmers’ land.
‘Perhaps the biggest betrayal in this package is the betrayal of farming families – urban areas trigger a 2km buffer but families living in farmhouses in rural NSW will have gas drillers on their doorsteps.
NSW Farmers also expressed its frustration at the announcement.
Association President Fiona Simson said: ‘We are unimpressed the NSW government cannot affect real and meaningful rules around coal seam gas that provide certainty for landholders and exploration companies alike’.
Richmond MP Justine Elliot said the reforms ‘completely ignore the overwhelming concerns of north coast residents’.
‘Our community’s view is clear – we want a CSG-free north coast and the National Party MPs have failed to deliver because they’re strong supporters of CSG mining and mining companies in our region,’ she said.