The NSW Government has announced new coal seam gas (CSG) rules[PDF], including a ban on CSG development in residential areas and critical industry clusters, such as horse breeders and wine producers. But they also stated this would only apply to new CSG exploration, assessment and production activities, and they have not ruled out drinking water catchments.
This is good news – and a welcome announcement – but it still does not protect the land and water of NSW communities. Those spared CSG right on their door-step, under this new announcement, need clean drinking water too.
Premier O’Farrell states “Families in residential areas should not have to worry about their quality of life being affected by the noise, visual impacts and other effects of coal seam gas mining”, acknowledging the risks posed by CSG development (though stopping short of actually listing the “other effects”). However, the new rules will not apply to existing approvals; a contradictory position.
The Apex Energy project – in and around the Woronora and Upper Nepean drinking water catchments – can still be approved.
Our drinking water catchment areas take up less than 2% of land in NSW, yet provide drinking water for 60% of people in the state. These are areas so protected that you can be fined up to $44,000 for setting foot there.
The Government also announced that it’s chief scientist and engineer will undertake an audit of all coal seam gas activities, including looking at the impact upon water catchment areas. But, the people of NSW need more than another Government investigation. We need a freeze on the industry for a Royal Commission; one that looks into the relationship between industry and Government, and operates transparently.
The two page announcement from the Government is short on details. Will this only apply to new development applications? Will this only apply to new licences? How will residential areas be defined?
It is just 5 months since the release of the NSW Government’s highly controversial Strategic Regional Land Use Policy. Hailed by the government as the comprehensive solution to CSG concerns – despite failing to even recognise drinking water catchments as strategically important – it is already being contradicted and dismantled by these new rules.
This is yet another example of O’Farrell’s cabinet governing on-the-run; making grand statements about protecting communities and working for the public while failing to put a stop to a dangerous industry and put science first.