Right now, Premier Barry O’Farrell has before him a genuine chance to align his actions with his words in regards to coal seam gas mining.
Two CSG exploration licences in the Illawarra, extending from Lake Illawarra to Helensburgh, have very recently expired (in February and April this year). The former NSW Government granted these titles. They define an area for oil or gas exploration and require that exploration activity takes place within a certain period, and that period has now expired.
Significantly, these licences (PEL 442 and PEL 444) contain all CSG wells approved for development in the Illawarra. Both take in parts of the drinking water catchment and include Sydney Catchment Authority Special Areas.
This is an opportunity to stop, do the research and make decisions about CSG based on facts – hardly an outrageous demand. These licences should never have been issued in the water catchment – risking the drinking water of over 4.3 million people in NSW.
The government should withdraw these licences, and they now have the perfect opportunity. Given Barry O’Farrell’s public statements on the matter of coal seam gas mining in sensitive areas such as the Illawarra, it’s hard to imagine how any other course of action can be justified.
Prior to the state election, Barry O’Farrell (then Opposition Leader) made a public pledge:
“The next Liberal-National Government will ensure that mining cannot occur… in any water catchment area, and will ensure that mining leases and mining exploration permits reflect that common sense; no ifs, no buts, a guarantee.” See video
Once premier, Barry O’Farrell went on to tell Alan Jones:
“I don’t intend to allow — particularly after the drought we went through over a decade — mining or any other activity to threaten water resources.” Hear audio
He also stated:
“[CSG] exploration licences have been granted, in some cases permission to mine has been granted, in areas, frankly, that should never ever have been on the list.”
Outside NSW Parliament on May 1, 2012, NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner stated:
“We’ve been working hard as a Government – given a system which had zero protections but plenty of exploration licences and dodgy deals done, don’t worry about that; We’ve been working hard to get the balance right.” See Video
These words – while positive – are still at odds with reality. In November 2011, after this government took office, approval for a new exploratory CSG well was given within PEL 444, within a Sydney Water Catchment Special Area. Water resources, productive land and communities are at risk and the government is not stopping it.
It is not remotely clear what is happening with the Illawarra licences. Where is the transparent process we were promised? The public has been left completely in the dark – and it has taken the dedicated efforts of concerned and determined community members to dig around the dark corners of government websites to bring information to light in regards to the expiry of these PELs.
It is simple common sense that the Government should withdraw all CSG licences that Barry O’Farrell and Andrew Stoner say were granted in areas that ‘should never have been on the list’ or involved ‘dodgy deals’.
If that definition does not apply to these licences within the Illawarra (which include Sydney Catchment Authority Special Areas where the public can be fined $11,000 simply for setting foot in the area, such is the importance to our drinking water integrity) then it’s hard to believe it was intended to apply anywhere.
Over to you Mr O’Farrell. Here’s your chance to prove you’re a man of your word.