North coast National Party MPs say their government will buy back all existing coal-seam gas (CSG) licences in NSW under a plan to ’reset’ the CSG industry.
But the NSW Greens and Lock the Gate Alliance were quick to criticise the plan, saying it will offer no protection to farmland and water supplies and CSG was now the biggest environmental and regional issue facing voters in the March election.
This afternoon, National MPs Thomas George (Lismore), Don Page (Ballina), Geoff Provest (Tweed) and Chris Gulaptis (Clarence) released a joint statement welcoming the government’s adoption of Chief Scientist’s Professor Mary O’Kane’s recommendations.
‘It has taken us a while, and I understand that some people have been frustrated that we haven’t done this sooner, but we needed to get this right,’ Mr George said.
‘We are enacting legislation to revoke all of the state’s Petroleum Exploration Licence applications, which cover 43 per cent of the state, and at the same time we will be implementing a buy-back of existing licences,’ he said.
‘This will come at a price but we believe that our land and water are worth the cost.’
Mr George said the government would adopt the Prof O’Kane’s recommendations ‘to ensure that coal seam gas activity only occurs where it is appropriate’.
‘Labor had 16 years to fix NSW and failed, instead they blanketed the state with inappropriate licences including on the north coast,’ he said.
But the Greens NSW mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said the battle lines on coal seam gas were now drawn for the election.
’A few days ago the premier Mike Baird said “Do we want coal seam gas? Absolutely we do.” The NSW Gas plan is a document to get panicked National MPs through the election, but ultimately is a blueprint to roll out coal seam gas, Mr Buckingham said.
‘Voters have a clear choice next March. Vote Nationals or Liberal and get coal seam gas. Vote Labor and get coal seam gas most places. Vote Greens for a strong and unqualified stand against coal seam gas,’ he said.
‘For the past three years we’ve had announcement after announcement, moratoriums put in place and then lifted, while the industry rolls on through exemptions and loopholes. This NSW Gas Plan is no different.
‘None of the recommendations of the Chief Scientist have yet been put in place by legislation.
‘We have a promise to implement the recommendations after the next election, but voters have long memories and know previous commitments such as the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy and Aquifer Interference Regulation were gutted and watered down and failed to deliver the promised protections.
‘The government is mistaken and taking a very cynical view of the motivations behind opposition to coal seam gas if they think they can buy support for coal seam gas by increasing the level of compensation.
‘The reaction from farmers so far has been to see this as an attempted “bribe” and they know that clean water and productive soils are precious and cannot be replaced by money.
‘There is nothing in this plan that will give much succour to communities concerned about coal seam gas in Gloucester, the northern rivers, the Liverpool Plains, or Sydney’s water catchment.
‘It’s just more empty statements about “world’s best practice” while the industry fracks and its security guards rough up protesters,’ Mr Buckingham said.
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers coordinator Elly Bird told Echonetdaily that the government’s reponse failed to acknowledge community sentiment ‘and no measures put in place to adequately respond to community demands’.
Ms Bird said communities across the northern rivers ‘have participated in broad scale grassroots democracy, with 95.3 per cent of 31,000 respondents to community surveys choosing to remain Gasfield Free’.
‘Earlier this month 8,000 community members took to the streets to declare our region gasfield free,’ Ms Bird said.
‘We will not accept this industry anywhere in our region and the government should know that opposition will continue to grow if they do not act to provide the protection we demand,’ she said.
‘We’re particularly disappointed that the NSW government has moved to cancel exploration applications elsewhere in NSW, but not the exploration licences over our region.
‘If CSG is risky, and needs to be better controlled, then that should apply to existing licence areas just as much as application areas.
‘What we’ve ended up with now is a double standard – the improved protection measures that apply during when considering applications do not apply to existing exploration or production. The community simply won’t accept that.
‘It’s also very misleading of the NSW government to say they have accepted all 16 recommendations of the Chief Scientist, when they’ve done no such thing.
‘Their own response makes it clear they do not currently intend to adopt a standing expert committee, improved insurance measures, an environmental rehabilitation fund, or measures to carefully limit CSG to designated areas within existing licences.
‘The NSW government has fallen far short of the Chief Scientist recommendations and community expectations today,’ Ms Bird said.
Bentley farmer Meg Nielson said ‘our community wholeheartedly rejects the industrialisation of our landscapes, and landholders across the northern rivers remain united in their complete rejection of unconventional gas extraction’.
‘We are bitterly disappointed that the government is still not listening to us,’ Ms Nielson said.
‘Our community has shown, time and time again, through a process of comprehensive grass-roots democracy that there is no place for gasfields in our region,’ she said.
‘Our community has also shown that we are willing to stand up and protect our home, and we are very ready to blockade should we need to.
“This is a whole of community sentiment, that echoes right across our region and we are continuing our call for full cancellation of all licences,’ Ms Nielson said.
Ballina MP Don Page said in the joint release that he had ‘long questioned the appropriateness of the CSG industry in the northern rivers and this staged plan ensures there is no place for companies that do not comply with the NSW government’s tough new regulations’.
Mr Provest said ‘we have listened to our communities. We will not support activities where it is unsafe or inappropriate.
‘I call on industry to reflect on its standing in the community and consider handing licences that cover inappropriate areas back to the government through the buy back process,’ Mr Provest said.
Mr Gulaptis said ‘we will never compromise our communities – this is the best possible Plan to regulate the CSG industry.
‘We will determine where coal seam gas takes place, not the gas companies,’ he said.
To view the plan visit: www.resourcesandenergy.nsw.gov.au
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