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Byron Shire
May 22, 2024

New CSG enquiry – NSW government dropped the ball

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Back in 2013, at the height of the coal seam gas (CSG) fight in NSW, the state government led by Barry O’Farrell commissioned the Chief Scientist, professor Mary O’Kane, to conduct a comprehensive review of CSG-related activities, focusing on the human health and environmental impacts of unconventional gas.

Late in 2014 she delivered her report, which included 16 recommendations to government.

Although gas companies and their allies immediately claimed the report gave a green light to their industry, O’Kane herself said that there was still much for government to do, and that ‘implementing the recommendations of the Review involves non-trivial tasks.’

Liverpool Plains farmer Margaret Fleck relieved that parliament will examine the government’s failure to meet the recommendations of the Chief Scientist on CSG. Photo Tree Faerie.

Recommendations not implemented

Five years on, with Santos applying pressure on government to refer their Narrabri Gas Project to the Independent Planning Commission for approval, a NSW Upper House Committee Enquiry has begun, to look into the implementation of Mary O’Kane’s recommendations and to explore whether new evidence has emerged.

Mullaley farmer and vocal CSG opponent Margaret Fleck says, ‘we’re relieved the parliament will examine the government’s failure to meet the recommendations of the Chief Scientist on CSG.

‘This inquiry is coming in the nick of time given a PR campaign push from Santos to get approval for its proposed Narrabri gasfield that is widely opposed by farmers and people across our region.

‘Crucial Chief Scientist recommendations about baseline data, modelling, risk assessments, insurance, transparency and governance have been left to languish, while Santos presses ahead with its plans for a huge production gasfield in our region that will remove huge volumes of groundwater beneath a recharge aquifer of the Great Artesian Basin.’

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said, ‘It’s five years since the Chief Scientist made a sweeping set of recommendations for CSG in New South Wales.

‘The government has completely dropped the ball on implementing those recommendations and the groundwater which drought-affected farmers rely on is under real threat if a huge CSG production gasfield at Narrabri is allowed to go ahead.’

Health and environmental risks

Dr John Van Der Kallen, chair of the NSW Doctors for the Environment Australia says his organisation welcomes the government review of the NSW Chief Scientist officer’s review.

‘Since 2014 there is new data outlining the extensive health and environmental impacts from CSG extraction,’ he said.

‘CSG extraction is contributing to the acceleration in climate change, apart from other health impacts such as asthma, mental illness, dermatological and immune related diseases. It is important that the NSW government reviews and acts on the recommendations.’

Although gas companies often claim science is on their side, real science can risk being left behind in the stampede for gas royalties and shareholder profits, with communities and water being some of the most obvious victims. Scientific experts in specialisations including water, medicine and fugitive emissions have been raising the alarm for some time, and a number of affected community members have become experts themselves.

According to Margaret Fleck, ‘Santos has refused requests by government agencies to calibrate its groundwater model, to conduct worst-case scenario modelling, and to undertake the additional groundwater monitoring requested.

Water at risk

‘The Santos gasfield poses long-term risks to our precious groundwater, including the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). Permanent protection for the GAB recharge zone should be an absolute no-brainer when so much of our region depends on it for survival.’

Margaret Fleck concluded by saying that, ‘this damaging high-risk project would never have been allowed to proceed this far if the government had followed the recommendations laid down by the Chief Scientist five years ago.’

The NSW Upper House Committee is chaired by the Shooters and Fishers’ Mark Banasiak MLC, and assistant-chaired by long-time CSG opponent and former Green Justin Field MLC. There are five other members from various parties.

Public submissions can be made until Sunday 27 October. The report will be delivered in December.

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  1. Thanks David. All of Cloudcatcher Media needs to be seen
    & digested. The entire country, including its people, are at
    risk. Santos [& the rest of them] create gas-fields that are
    really mine-fields. We must stop all this…


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