Lock the Gate Alliance has thrown its weight behind a report from the NSW chief scientist and engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, which has recommended the creation of a Water Resources Impacts Commission.
The recommendation is included in the report Placement of monitoring equipment for water resources in NSW, the latest of a series of reports she is compiling for the government on the subject of CSG extraction.
The commission would be responsible for a monitoring, collecting, analysing and storing data ‘to reduce uncertainty with regard to possible impacts from extractive activities on water resources.’
Prof O’Kane made the recommendation despite commenting in her covering letter that ‘it is not possible formally to describe the optimal location/placement for monitoring equipment’ as the resources minister had requested.
She conceded that, ‘in a mathematical sense, this is an ill-posed and under-constrained problem and, as such, cannot be formally solved.’
The report recognises that use of groundwater in NSW has increased five-fold since 1983 and states, ‘the use, fate and vulnerability of groundwater resources is a crucial environmental and economic issue.’
Baseline data is missing for many projects, the report says, adding, that regional-scale monitoring ‘may fail to detect local impacts, which can be significant in their effect.
‘For example draw-down of an aquifer can cause net migration of water from nearby rivers and streambeds to aquifers resulting in the mobilisation and leaching of some metals (e.g. iron, trace arsenic) from the surrounding rocks and soils.’
Prof O’Kane recommended a procedure that would see CSG mining companies, together with the regulator, required to establish baseline data and identify possible impacts to water resources before activity commenced
‘Appropriate monitoring’ to detect these possible risks would then be installed and ongoing monitoring would be undertaken on site.
The data would then be sent ‘in real time’ to the State Environment Data Repository and continuously anaylsed by computer.
Simultaneously, an expert panel would conduct regular sessions to separately consider the information.
The government was also advised to construct models of each region to establish the effect of cumulative impacts of mining and CSG extraction on water sources, which would feed into the planning approvals process.
Finally, she said, the government should ‘commission formal scientific characterization of New South Wales groundwater.’
Prof O’Kane told ABC radio there was ‘a tremendous [existing] set of data to draw on, to bring together and to start to build a picture – and to build deeper characterisations of the state’s water resources’.
‘If you have a very good handle on the risks, you can then monitor for those risks,’ she said.
‘Keeping all of the data, public and private, together in a safe data repository is very important,’ she added.
Lock the Gate supports
Lock the Gate spokesperson and Gunnedah farmer Phil Herbert said, ‘coal and gas companies keep telling everyone there won’t be draw down and contamination of groundwater from their interference with aquifers. Well this report backs what we’ve been saying all along – there’s no confidence in these predictions without proper baseline data, and proper modelling.
‘When you get a report from the chief scientist saying we don’t know enough to be accurate and confident about the impact on groundwater from coal and coal seam gas mining, that’s enough of a warning for a moratorium to be declared while the data is collected and the modelling undertaken.
‘We’re calling on the NSW Government to urgently introduce such a moratorium off the back of this report’
‘We’re also calling for some long-term certainty for farmers – we need no-go areas for mining in groundwater recharge areas, alluvial aquifers and rivers. It’s just not safe to drill, undermine and open cut the lifeblood of NSW farming communities’ Mr Herbert said.