By Lauren O’Connor.
Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham has criticised the Baird government for risking the safety of Sydney’s drinking water by not legislating against coal seam gas (CSG) exploration in catchment areas.
The controversial form of gas extraction is steadily becoming an energy staple for NSW and Queensland but activist groups in the Shoalhaven, Illawarra, the Blue Mountains and Sutherland areas have raised concern about licencing parameters.
In November last year a moratorium was placed on exploration in catchment ‘Special Areas’ in order for a report to be prepared about environmental, social and health impacts of the CSG. The findings were released this September and were considered by the Baird government.
Author of the independent review, NSW Chief Scientist Mary O’Kane has since made 16 recommendations to the government saying the industry can be safely managed if it is transparent, integrated into the community and overseen by an advisory body.
The report reads: “In particularly sensitive areas, such as in and near drinking water catchments, risk management needs to be of a high order with particularly stringent requirements on companies operating there.”
The four major catchments that supply Sydney with drinking water are the Shoalhaven, Upper Nepean, Warragamba, and Worona systems, which stretch north from Lithgow to Braidwood in the south.
NSW Greens MP Buckingham and activists such as David Williamson of the Southern Highlands Coal Action Group (SHCAG) want a blanket ban on CSG in catchments because they consider it a threat to safe drinking water.
After confronting the minister for Trade and Investment Mark Patterson about three years of inaction on the issue, Buckingham outlined CSG’s potential effect on metropolitan areas.
During a Budget Estimates hearing he said: “Sydney-siders should be particularly concerned that the government refuses to rule out toxic coal seam gas development in the special areas of their drinking water catchment.”
Williamson, a resident of the Shoalhaven Sydney Catchment area, says although CSG is a huge threat to the productive capacity of agricultural water supplies and farming communities across NSW, there may be confusion over the types of mining that exist locally.
“The Nepean Catchment in particular is much more threatened by mining than by gas . . . as far as I know there are no active gas permits over the water catchment, but there are lots of coal mining activities nibbling around the edges and increasingly encroaching on the catchment.”
They were joined by Opposition Leader John Robertson who criticised Liberal-National for ‘rolling out the red carpet’ for companies such as AGL, Santos and Apex Energy to drill. The state government hit back, arguing that in the interest of being competitive in the global gas market and satisfying energy consumption domestically CSG must be invested in.
Energy Minister Anthony Roberts sited O’Kane’s Review when he told The Sydney Morning Herald that the regulation of gas activities were previously too complex and assured the state that the CSG companies have a reputation for industry best-practice.
He said “all gas exploration will still have to go through a rigorous assessment process.”