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Byron Shire
June 2, 2023

Byron councillor raises mining impacts on local water

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The possible contamination of waterways from gas mining at the proposed Bentley site, just west of Lismore, has sparked a motion by Byron Shire Greens Cr Duncan Dey at this Thursday’s council meeting.

Cr Dey, who is also on the board of water authority Rous Water, warns that Metgasco’s attempts to extract tight sands gas from prime agricultural lands could have ‘catastrophic impacts.’

He says in the upcoming council agenda for April 10 that the risks have ‘not been adequately investigated’.

Rous Water, which supplies water to Lismore, Ballina, Richmond Valley and Byron LGAs, has called on the state government to prevent gas exploration in areas it is planning to explore for underground water sources. It comes as the state government recently announced a six-month freeze on all new CSG explorations.

Substantial risk

Cr Dey wrote, ‘My view is that the risk to water quality is substantial while the necessity for unconventional gas to be discovered or, if found, extracted in this particular locality is negligible.

‘There is gas elsewhere.

‘Rous and hence Byron Shire Council and their dependent water supply community rely on the Lismore Source. If it were to be removed from Rous’s supply system, our future water strategy would be undermined in that a replacement source would be required almost immediately. While groundwater is proposed as ‘the new source’, it requires several years of investigation prior to use.

But in reply to Cr Dey’s question on possible contamination, Rous staff said, ‘It is unlikely that surface water runoff will have the potential to impact on local tributaries’, but ‘a key question to be addressed concerns the extent to which the upstream migration of contaminants occurs during… intermediate flow ranges, when potential exposure could occur.’

‘This analysis requires consideration of the variability of tidal flows that would also introduce variability to this situation.’

Byron Shire Council’s infrastructure services director, Phil Holloway, says in the report that council staff contacted Richard Green, team leader of the state government’s Groundwater North, over the issue. ‘He has verbally advised that they have no concerns with the Bentley project.

‘It’s a conventional gas bore in that they are looking for dry gas, not fracking for coal seam gas. He also advised that groundwater flows very slowly and said that it may not be even possible for groundwater to travel from Bentley to Byron.

‘Without further investigation he couldn’t comment any further on the issue.’

But in his comments Mr Holloway provided the federal government’s Atlas of Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems which, ‘suggest the groundwater between Bentley and Byron Shire could be linked.’

Cr Dey is asking for council to write to Macquarie Street-based NSW coalition MPs regarding the dangers of the activity, while Cr Basil Cameron is calling on councillors to support a letter-writing push to include northern rivers agricultural industries as a Critical Industry Cluster (CIC) status.

Currently there are only two CICs in NSW: the horse and wine industries of the Hunter Valley. That legislation protects just those two industries from the state’s rapid expansion of gas mining.

The text of the motion reads as follows

‘That Council write:
to Rous County Council;
to NSW Premier O’Farrell;
to Lismore MP Thomas George;
to Ballina MP and Minister for the North Coast, Don Page;
to NSW Minister for Regional Infrastructure & Services, Andrew Stoner;
to NSW Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner;
and to NSW Minister for Resources & Energy, Anthony Roberts expressing our concerns that:

1. unconventional gas exploration is taking place in a location (Bentley, west of Lismore) within the surface water catchment of one of the region’s urban water supply sources (Rous’s “Lismore source”);

2.  impacts could be catastrophic of either

(a) an accidental pollution incident during exploration or during set-up for production, or

(b) developing this locality within a water supply catchment for gas production (ie multiple wells and their infrastructure);

3. insufficient investigation has been undertaken to assess the risk from these activities to our urban water supply; and

4.Incidents in recent years such as wastewater overflows in the Pilliga State Forest and at Casino demonstrate that the infant unconventional gas industry is either not willing or not capable of averting such incidents, and that the planning for and granting of exploration licences was probably premature.’

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