By Eve Sinton
A bill calling for a moratorium on coal seam gas was introduced to the upper house of the New South Wales parliament last week by Independent MLC Justin Field.
Field said, “The uncontrolled move to a gas export industry – of which Santos is one of the big contributors – has made Australian the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas [LNG] but has left us with one of the highest domestic prices for gas. It is absurd that there are now proposals for two terminals to import gas into New South Wales.
“In the nine years since the public debate around CSG kicked off in a big way in New South Wales, most of the proposals for coal seam gas have fallen by the wayside as communities have risen up and as the truth about what coal seam gas and other fracked gases means for land, water and communities has become evident.
It is time for this Parliament to act to put the brakes on an industry that offers only downsides for our community and economy.
Critical questions on toxic salt
“Critical questions remain about how massive volumes of salt that will be produced from the treatment of extracted water will be managed, and how the creeping industrialisation of the landscape as a result of this project – including massive pipelines to transport any gas that is produced to the east coast gas market – will impact on viable farmland. New South Wales sits at a crossroads on the CSG question.
“This is a disaster industry; it is a disaster for land, water, local industries – particularly farming, and we now know for manufacturing across the country – and it is a disaster for local communities.”
Continues the work of Bentley blockade
Field went on to say the bill continues the work of communities such as those in the Northern Rivers who have made their case and won their freedom from gas development, including the people of Bentley who stood firm in front of the threat of machines and police to protect their land and water.
Communities in Gloucester, the Hunter, the Central Coast, Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Illawarra, the Moree Plains have all rejected the industry.
“The question remains: If CSG was wrong for so many areas – and so many licences have been torn up in this State – why is it acceptable at Narrabri and in the Pilliga Forest? Members [who] think this is just a plan to drill a few holes in a dry forest have not listened to the communities who know that this is a foot in the door that will open up the entire region,” Field said.
Farmers from the NSW North West have welcomed the bill, which would:
• create a Standing Expert Panel on coal seam gas, as recommended by the NSW Chief Scientist five years ago;
• exclude the industry from the Northern Rivers, coastal drinking water catchments and the southern recharge aquifer of the Great Artesian Basin;
• create a state-wide moratorium on exploration and production of coal seam gas until the Expert Panel has declared the industry safe;
• reintroduce the public interest test as a relevant ground when considering petroleum titles.
Mullaley farmer Margaret Fleck is a member of an alliance of community groups in the North West of the state fighting to protect groundwater from depletion and contamination by coal seam gas.
Fleck said, “We’re grateful to Justin Field for his leadership in introducing this Bill which is a sensible way to address long-standing community opposition to this industry and implement the recommendations of the Chief Scientist.
“This is especially urgent for farmers in our region right now – faced with an ongoing and severe drought, we cannot afford to let CSG put our groundwater at risk.
“We urge the Labor Party, Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party, and all cross-bench MLCs to support this Bill and get it passed, given the risks of CSG and long-term community opposition.
“Most importantly, this is a key test for the National Party and we urge them to vote for this Bill – given their party has passed a motion to have expired CSG licences extinguished, they should step up and support this Bill to have the Chief Scientist’s recommendations implemented.”
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW Coordinator Georgina Woods said, “Coal seam gas is expensive, damaging and unreliable and New South Wales can’t afford to let it go ahead.
“The latest ACCC report has confirmed what we have always known – that eastern Australia is suffering from a gas price crisis, not a supply crisis.
“There is simply no need for more farmland to be destroyed so that expensive, polluting coal seam gas can be extracted.”