New groundwater-monitoring measures for the coal seam gas (CSG) industry announced by the state government for some parts of NSW have drawn a mixed response.
While the NSW Farmers welcomed the new groundrules which reflected their own policy, the Lock the Gate Alliance says the government should have set clear exclusion zones to protect drinking-water catchments and productive groundwater sources from mining.
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW coordinator Georgina Woods said ‘expanding our knowledge of groundwater is crucial, and the capacity to respond to an “early warning system” will be some comfort’.
‘Proper mapping and modelling of our groundwater resources which are so precious to regional and farming communities was recommended by the Chief Scientist, so while this has been a long time coming, it’s welcome.’
‘However, monitoring is only one side of the coin when it comes to water and mining policy and regulation, the other side is protection, and that’s what we’re still not seeing from the government.’
NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson says the new water monitoring framework was aimed at improving science-based evidence and transparency in the coal seam gas industry, and aligned with key policy passed at the NSW Farmers’ annual conference last month.
Ms Simson said her organisation was ‘pleased the state government has started the process of mapping underground water and developing baseline water profiles.
‘It’s an excellent starting point, and the modern technology and software independently developed through NICTA appears promising,’ she said.
‘Our membership base see this as a crucial and essential step in ensuring that the coal seam gas industry does not harm agricultural land and water. We have been highlighting the importance of comprehensive baseline water, soil and air studies in areas affected by exploration activities for some time.’
Ms Woods, on the other hand, says ‘there are water resources that are so important to the state that they warrant declaration as a no-go area for mining, which has been shown to draw down groundwater and pollute surface water.
‘Even the Sydney drinking water catchment is not off-limits, with extensive coal mining occurring there right now, and the possibility of extensive coal seam gas mining in the future.
‘There is also coal seam gas production proposed in the Pilliga, over a recharge aquifer for the Great Artesian Basin, which is the lifeblood of western NSW.
‘In the Hunter Valley, productive aquifers that have supported our dairy industry for over 100 years are being drawn down by open cut mining, and the precious alluvial groundwater of the Liverpool Plains is also under threat from proposed coal mines.
‘To complement the monitoring and mapping announced today, drinking water catchments and important groundwater sources need clear exclusion zones for coal seam gas and for coal mining.
‘Rather than continuing to dribble out bits and pieces of policy to better regulate mining and coal seam gas, it would be great to see the government deliver a comprehensive policy approach that safeguards water resources for the long term,’ Ms Woods said.
Ms Simson said ‘what’s important now is accessibility, transparency and reliability of data as well as a full understanding of the suite of testing to be undertaken.
‘There’s no point having monitoring bores if the community aren’t aware of the information that is available, and if the data isn’t comprehensive enough, particularly as it relates to quality as well as consumptive use. We will want to make sure that those boxes are ticked.’
‘We welcome these initial steps and will continue to advocate for an approach such as this to be taken across the state.’