The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) has welcomed a state government decision to continue the moratorium on issuing new coal seam gas (CSG) exploration licences.
The NSW government has announced it will extend the freeze on the licences for another year while ‘it continues to investigate the transparency of applications’.
The freeze on new licences, which the government announced six months, ago was due to end on Friday.
NSW energy minister Anthony Roberts said the freeze will now continue until September 2015.
NCC CEO Kate Smolski said that while the group welcomed the reprieve it, ‘does nothing to protect communities already affected by CSG developments, including those at Camden in southwestern Sydney.’
‘Drinking water catchments are still not protected, neither are important natural assets like the Pilliga Forest, which is set to be carved up and polluted by gas field development.
‘It also fails to protect those people living under the shadow of coal seam gas development at Gloucester on the north coast and around the Pilliga in the state’s northwest,’ Ms Smolski said.
‘In the last few weeks we have seen a major gas incident at Camden within a few hundred metres of homes. That is the reality of the risks this industry poses and this announcement today does nothing to address that.
‘As the government reviews the areas already open for exploration they must identify no-go zones that protects important agricultural lands and sensitive natural areas that are too important or sensitive to be put at risk by this dangerous, dirty industry,’ Ms Smolski said.
Lock the Gate Alliance (LTGA) broadly agrees with the NCC’s comments, adding, ‘the idea that there is too much control of this unsafe industry in New South Wales is ludicrous’.
LTGA national coordinator Phil Laird said, ‘There is currently no protection at all for important water resources or farmland in the north west and northern rivers or in Sydney’s drinking water catchment. In Gloucester and Camden, there are coal seam gas wells just a few hundred metres from people’s homes.
‘We would like to see the review of petroleum licences extend to identifying no-go areas for mining in precious water resources, important farmland and special bushland. In the meantime of course, no further action should be taken to progress controversial coal seam gas projects in the Pilliga and Gloucester,’ he added.
‘The reckless decision by Queensland and the Commonwealth governments to allow three huge coal seam gas export projects to be built simultaneously in Queensland has thrown the east coast gas market into some turmoil and sharply driven up the price of gas that households and manufacturers in New South Wales are being forced to pay.
‘There is no shortage of gas on the east coast – but there seems to be a desperate shortage of common sense. When our own demand for gas is falling, and the amount of gas we’re producing is rising, it’s absurd to cry hysterically about shortfalls and crises. What we should be doing is taking the opportunity to map and protect the parts of the state that are too precious to risk for these short term resource industries, and put protections in place for the long-term.
‘Digging up precious groundwater and spoiling the farmlands that feed this state to cover the mistakes of greedy gas companies that have signed contracts to sell gas they don’t have would be foolhardy in the extreme. New South Wales rural communities won’t stand for it,’ Mr Laird said.
In March, then premier Barry O’Farrell accused the former Labor government of granting petroleum exploration licences ‘like confetti’ and warned the government would also audit existing licences.
He also criticised Labor for only charging $1,000 for exploration applications, which was ‘less than Ian Macdonald (former mining minister) spent on his average lunch’.
That fee has since been raised to $50,000.
The extended freeze will give the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) more time to complete its detailed examination of current exploration licences, Mr Roberts told ABC.
‘We make no apologies for introducing a level of transparency and openness with respect to Petroleum Exploration Licences,’ Mr Roberts said.
About 10 licences have already been cancelled, Mr Roberts said, while several other licence holders have been issued a show-cause notice as to why theirs shouldn’t be revoked.
The decision comes as NSW chief scientist Mary O’Kane prepares to hand her final report into the state’s CSG industry to the government.
Premier Mike Baird said the report would be ‘the line in the sand’ on how the industry must operate in NSW.
– with AAP