How green is your electricity supplier?

Solar Panels

The issue of coal seam gas development can sometimes leave us feeling powerless against the big gas companies. But there is something very real you can do to effect change – switch your energy supplier.

Origin Energy, EnergyAustralia and AGL currently provide electricity to over three quarters of Australian households. These “big three” pay lip-service to green initiatives, whilst investing massively in coal and gas.

Unfortunately no gas mains provider in NSW can provide CSG free gas, but there’s still good news; it’s very EASY to switch and make sure your electricity supply is as green as it can be – from a company with no investments in coal seam gas. Not only is it a painless, quick process you might well find you pay end up paying less. Switching to a supplier genuinely supporting renewable energy and not investing in coal seam gas is one of the best ways you can fight back against the CSG industry…

Make a real difference and switch your supplier today.

3 CSG licences in catchment cancelled

Today the Minister for Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts announced the buy-back of three coal seam gas (CSG) exploration licences that encroach on the Sydney Water Catchment. The licences were all held by Apex Energy and included PEL 442, PEL 444 and PEL 454.

3 cancelled CSG licences map

PEL 442, issued in February 2002, covered 23,067 hectares from south of Port Kembla, west of Dapto and north to Clifton. PEL 444, issued in April 2003, covered 6,272 hectares from Clifton, west of Darkes Forest and north of Lilyvale. PEL 454, issued in March 2007, covered 28,397 hectares west of Oakdale.

Community opposition to CSG, and the campaign to protect land and water delivered this outcome.

Stop CSG Illawarra set up four years ago in response to 15 approved CSG wells in and around the Sydney drinking water catchment. Our group now numbers almost 6,000.

Today marks a big victory for the campaign. Three of the four remaining CSG licences in our catchment are gone; licences that should never have been issued.

Both the current and previous state government had a hand in theses licences. All three PELs were issued by the ALP and two were renewed by the Coalition.

We call on the Government to cancel the final remaining licence in the Sydney drinking water catchment: PEL 2 held by AGL.

Before the last state election Barry O’Farrell promised to ban mining in NSW drinking water catchment areas. This has not happened.

If this Government is serious about securing our drinking water supply, they’ll go beyond cancelling licences in the lead up to an election, and announce a ban.

We need permanent protection of our drinking water, not a situation where new licences can be issued after the election that put drinking water at risk.

The legislation must change, and people across the state will fight until it does. A ban on CSG in drinking water catchment areas is simply common sense.

No new protections in NSW Gas Plan

Mike Baird

NSW Premier Mike Baird: “Do we want coal seam gas? Absolutely we do.”

The NSW Government today announced its Gas Plan: the plan for the development of coal seam gas in NSW. No changes were made today, though the Government mapped its intentions.

The plan is big on rhetoric, light on detail. It’s a plan to develop CSG, in-line with comments from the Premier this week: “Do we want coal seam gas? Absolutely we do.”

The Government is effectively saying: “trust us, we’ll make CSG safe in the near future”. It’s stalling until after the election. In truth, this plan gives us no new protections for health, water or farms.

The plan includes a commitment to compensation. As though money could fix the poisoning of our food and water.

The current Government promised to ban CSG in our drinking water catchments in the lead up to the last state election. Three years later we’re still waiting. It’s hard not to be cynical.

The plan includes a commitment to compensation. As though money could fix the poisoning of our food and water. Under the plan, CSG projects can still be considered in drinking water catchments, and landholders have no right to say ‘no’ to drilling on their land.

CSG mining always involves drawing water out of the ground that’s high in salt and methane, and can contain toxic and radioactive compounds. It involves methane leaks and industrial development. The risks are simply unacceptable.

It’s wholly inappropriate to even consider allowing this industry to operate near the source of our drinking water. It should not take extraordinary efforts by the community – years of investigative work and campaigning – to have the Government keep a clear and simple promise.

Stop CSG’s Jess Moore comments on WIN News – 13 Nov 2014

Need for CSG catchment ban clear and urgent

NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer - Mary O'Kane

The long-awaited report on coal seam gas (CSG) from the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer makes it clear that CSG development is unacceptable in our drinking water catchments.

In the context of damaging, toxic and radioactive problems both overseas and in Australia, people in NSW have been asking ‘is CSG safe and, if so, under what conditions?’ Most think this question should have been answered before approval to drill was given.

Given extraordinary community efforts to demand change – the NSW Government commissioned a review. It called on the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, to review CSG activity in NSW. The review took 18 months to complete and was delivered on 30 September 2014.

The CSG Review’s terms of reference

This review was framed by terms of reference, written by the Government. They called on Professor O’Kane to do six things:

  • Look at industry compliance
  • Identify and assess any gaps in the identification and management of risk
  • Identify best practice
  • Compare CSG in NSW with other places
  • Inspect and monitor current activities
  • Produce a series of information papers ‘on specific elements of CSG operation and impact’

Essentially, she was asked to look at how CSG has – and can continue to be – developed. She was not asked to answer the question ‘is CSG safe to develop and, if so, under what conditions?’.

Despite this very important distinction, Professor O’Kane still found cause to include many warnings and concerns, going as far as to suggest there are areas that should be off-limits to CSG – though she does not define these areas.

The report found:

‘it is inevitable that the CSG industry will have some unintended consequences’
  • There are risks and ‘significant concerns.’
  • There are still ‘things we need to know more about.’
  • That drilling should only be allowed in areas ‘appropriate in geological and land-use terms for CSG.’
  • Risks could ‘in general be managed’ through ‘engineering and professionalism’, regulation, legislation, ‘a well-trained and certified workforce’, data collection, monitoring and use ‘of new technological developments as they become available.’
  • ‘Rapid emergency response and effective remediation’ as well as ‘insurance cover’ should be planned for, in case things go wrong.
  • ‘There are no guarantees’ and that risks cannot not be ruled out, concluding ‘it is inevitable that the CSG industry will have some unintended consequences, including as the result of accidents, human error, and natural disasters.’

Essentially, the report concludes that there are risks, but that those risks can be ‘managed’ (albeit theoretically only – based on data yet to be collected, and emerging technology). It goes on to say that ‘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 in terms of management, data provision, insurance cover, and incident-response times.’ When quizzed further on the appropriateness of CSG in our catchments in a subsequent media interview, Professor O’Kane suggested a ‘learn as we go’ approach would be needed.

The CSG industry response

Tom Fontaine

Tom Fontaine – spokesperson for the Apex Energy CSG project – holds interests in several oil and gas ventures worldwide.

The CSG industry has been very quick to seize on the report’s findings as a green light for development. Apex Energy holds the license over the drinking water catchments for Greater Sydney and project spokesperson, Tom Fontaine, claims the report ‘supports the company’s position that there are no issues with coal methane development’ and ‘If there were any chance of aquifer or drinking water contamination we would not proceed’. He also scorns community concerns and any representation of them by the Government, suggesting that it will take ‘some people to grow a pair I guess before anything will happen’

Given the very clear concerns expressed in the report, these comments can only be viewed as wilfully misleading. Indeed, speaking in a media interview with Alan Jones shortly after the report’s release, Professor O’Kane said she had been ‘startled’ by the headlines and industry response interpreting her report’s conclusions as a ‘green light’ to proceed.

Put simply, if there is no chance of contamination why does the report recommend ‘rapid emergency response and effective remediation’ and the need for ‘insurance cover’?

What do the Sydney Catchment Authority say about CSG?

SCA Special Areas SignThe Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA) manages the drinking water catchments for Greater Sydney. The Authority’s key role is to ensure the quality and quantity of water in the catchments – protecting public health and safety, and the environment. Some ‘Special Areas’ of the catchment are considered so sensitive that the public is prohibited from even walking in them, with fines up to $44,000 applying for illegal access. Astonishingly – CSG licences cover these areas and the holders, Apex Energy, have development plans to drill within them.

The SCA requires that ‘any proposed development in the catchment area is required to have a neutral or beneficial effect on water quality’. It could not be any clearer that CSG development cannot meet this requirement, given Professor O’Kane’s conclusion that ‘it is inevitable that the CSG industry will have some unintended consequences, including as the result of accidents, human error, and natural disasters.’

Separate to Professor O’Kane’s report, the SCA have made their opposition to CSG development in the catchment Special Areas very clear. In 2013, they provided a submission to the Planning Assessment Commission regarding Apex Energy’s CSG project within the catchment, concluding: ‘Given the real and potential risks to Special Areas and Sydney’s water supply, SCA’s strong position is that coal seam gas activities should be excluded from the Special Areas.’ It’s a position they continue to stress to this day.

How should the government respond?

Last year the Government put a temporary freeze on CSG development in Sydney’s drinking water catchment ‘Special Areas’, pending the outcomes of Professor O’Kane’s review. The Government must now respond and is said to be considering the report’s findings.

An industry with ‘no guarantees’ that may require a ‘rapid emergency response’ simply shouldn’t be allowed in our water catchments

The report makes it clear there are many risks involved in CSG development. Given those risks and the unequivocal advice of the Sydney Catchment Authority, it’s clear that we need permanent no-go zones including a complete ban on CSG in our water catchments. An industry with ‘no guarantees’ that may require a ‘rapid emergency response’ simply shouldn’t be allowed in such vital areas. When it comes to the protection of our drinking water supply, the community needs guarantees that this report says it cannot give.

The Government should also go further and freeze the industry while informed decisions are made. Given the risks and unknowns highlighted, we need to press pause on CSG development across the state. We don’t want another public health issue on the scale of asbestos or thalidomide.

The government needs to talk and listen to communities on this issue, as well as the growing chorus from within their own ranks and the opposition. Not for the first time, we ask the question of them – ‘who do you work for?’

How fracking poisoned the water

How fracking poisoned the water

A Special Event – Sun Mar 2, 11am

Hear John Fenton – a Pavillion farmer and resident with 24 gas wells on his farm – speak in person about the battle against fracking in the USA.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found fracking in Pavillion, Wyoming polluted the water. Drinking water is now trucked in by the gas company, and the EPA instructed residents to use a fan when running the water to avoid the risk of explosion from a build up of gas. Water from the bores and taps in the district can be lit and some residents have developed major health problems connected with chemical pollution.

While locally the campaign to stop CSG and protect our drinking water catchment has ensured development can’t go ahead right now, this is far from the end of the story. The industry is still trying to set up shop here, with current exploration licences blanketing the Illawarra. Meanwhile, other communities in Australia and the world are battling to protect their land and water.

Come along and find out more. All welcome!

Sun 2 Mar, 11am – Thirroul Community Centre

More info on John Fenton’s tour of Australia.

Early 2014 Update

It can be difficult to keep tabs on what’s happening with coal seam gas (CSG) locally and across the country – with changes in legislation and policy being developed on-the-run in many cases – often in response to pressure from both the gas industry and from protestors. There are also other factors at play too, not directly linked to CSG, but which could have a huge bearing on how the industry progresses.

We’ve attempted to summarise some of the important factors here, as the situation stands in January 2014…

The CSG industry is trying to set up shop across Australia

CSG mining field

The impact of unconventional gas well heads on the landscape

State and federal governments continue to back CSG development and export, while the Condamine River bubbles and communities where gas fields have sprung up (like Tara in rural Queensland) suffer ill health. The NSW Pilliga forest is under siege. Huge plants are being built to turn gas into liquid (LNG) to ship it overseas, and parts of the Great Barrier Reef are being dredged to create LNG shipping channels.

Standing between a government-backed industry and our land and water are communities standing together and locking the gate.

The situation in the Illawarra

The Walk For WaterLocally, a huge community-wide effort to stop CSG and protect our drinking water catchment achieved two big changes for CSG development in the Illawarra in 2013; the previously approved CSG project was rejected and the NSW government introduced a temporary moratorium (a freeze) on CSG development in drinking water catchment Special Areas. Right now, in early 2014, this means CSG drilling can’t go ahead here.

A proposal to permanently ban CSG in Special Areas of the Sydney drinking water catchment was tabled in the NSW parliament by the opposition in October 2013. The bills are due to be debated in early 2014.

But this is far from the end of the story. The moratorium is only in place until the NSW Chief Scientist’s report on CSG is complete (expected later this year) and we still have no legislative changes that ensure the long term protection of our drinking water catchments. Not only do CSG exploration licences still blanket the Ilawarra – licences that come with an obligation to drill – but state and federal governments want to make some big changes…

NSW Planning Bills

The NSW government drafted new planning rules in 2013. The current draft allows the planning minister to approve development, including for CSG, that breaches environment, heritage and local planning rules. It does not include anti-corruption controls, and developers will continue to choose and pay for their own certifiers. The bill will be debated in February or March 2014. You can find out more about the issues with the new planning rules from the Better Planning Network.
 

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Negotiated in secret, the Australian government is participating in drafting a new international trade agreement. It could allow foreign companies to sue the government if it brings in regulations that limit profits. Under the TPP, a CSG company could sue the government if it introduced health or environmental protections that impact their investment. The Australian government currently says it will pursue a deal that “eliminates or… reduces barriers to trade and investment” and a leaked draft of the environment chapter of the agreement is truly worrying. See more information and a petition from Choice.

We can’t afford to sit back and let coal seam gas roll out across Australia…

Get involved with Stop CSG Illawarra and act to…

  • Stop a trade agreement that limits much needed health and environmental protections.
  • Stop planning laws that drive development for profit, rather than meeting the needs of communities.
  • Win a permanent ban on CSG development in drinking water catchments and beyond.

Catchment ‘Special Areas’ Moratorium

Save our water catchments!

Today Chris Hartcher, the NSW Minister for Resources and Energy, announced a temporary moratorium on coal seam gas (CSG) exploration and mining in Sydney’s drinking water catchment ‘Special Areas’.

The hold will be in place until the outcome of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer’s review of CSG activities – currently expected in late 2014. It’s a welcome announcement and a win for the campaign – offering temporary protection – but it doesn’t change the fact that Barry O’Farrell must keep the promise he made before election:

“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.”

We demand a permanent ban on CSG in our water catchments

The community expects the Coalition to vote for legislation currently in the NSW Lower House to permanently ban CSG mining in Special Areas of the Sydney drinking water catchment. This moratorium doesn’t let the Premier off the hook.

We demand more than a delay. The review of CSG activities in NSW cannot become an excuse to develop CSG in our drinking water catchments. It is framed by terms of reference [PDF] that focus on how to develop the industry, not if or under what conditions development is safe.

The legislation must change, and our communities will fight until it does. We want the land in NSW that supplies our drinking water protected. CSG exploration and mining always involves unearthing water that is high in salt and methane, and can contain toxic and radioactive compounds and heavy metals. It involves methane leaks and industrial development that’s incompatible with our drinking water catchments.

A permanent ban on CSG in drinking water catchment areas is simply common sense. Find out more at the Stop CSG Water Catchments website and get involved in the campaign to save OUR water!

183485473-Special-Areas-Brochure-Special-Areas-Map-October-2013-pdf.pdf

CSG catchment ban petition debated

13,000+ members of the community signed the petition for a ban on CSG mining in NSW drinking water catchments. On October 17 2013, the petition was debated in parliamen

This is the full video of the petition debate in the NSW Parliament on October 17 2013. If you want to forego the mumbling and pollywaffle, we suggest you skip straight to 4:55 to hear Ryan Park (Member for Keira) recognise the huge, sustained community effort against CSG mining, admit the past wrongs of his party and make an honest, impassioned plea for sanity…

Credit where it’s due

The Sydney Catchment Authority submission to the PAC was unequivocal in stating the Authority’s opposition to coal seam gas activities within the water catchment ‘Special Areas’

The Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) recently rejected the application for an extension of time to allow Apex Energy’s 16 CSG well project in and around the Woronora and Upper Nepean catchments to go ahead – effectively freezing the CSG exploration project in the Illawarra.

We think that both the PAC committee and the Sydney Catchment Authority (who provided strongly worded opposition in their submission to the PAC) should be applauded for making the right decision in a very challenging and pressured political climate.

The decision was taken despite the NSW Department of Planning recommending the project go ahead. We note the committee took proper account of;

  • The growing body of independent scientific evidence on various environmental risks posed by production CSG mining, including drinking water supplies.
  • The views of the Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA).
  • The widespread local community opposition to this planned industrialisation of the Sydney Water Catchment Special Areas.
  • Vagaries and inadequacies in the current CSG approval and monitoring process, especially in regard to the consideration of production effects.

We have written to thank both the PAC and the SCA, and asked them to continue exerting pressure on the NSW Government to extend its legislation on CSG protection zones to include Sydney Water Catchment Special Areas and other drinking water catchments.

More information:

Gas prices set to rise

Are we to believe gas producers are concerned about the price we pay and want to produce more coal seam gas to lower it? Or are they pushing for more CSG in NSW because they want to export it overseas for bigger profits?

Australia’s peak body representing the coal seam gas (CSG) industry – APPEA – would have us believe the campaign to stop CSG is the cause of rising prices, stating recently:

“Rising gas prices are something the people of NSW may have to get used to unless the industry can get on with developing NSW gas resources… For this, they have local anti-CSG activists to thank.”

Any expansion in gas production will see more exports and higher prices, not cheaper gas

Gas prices in eastern Australia are low by world standards because they are not yet linked to international prices. This will change next year with the completion of the first of three large liquified natural gas (LNG) facilities that will turn gas into a liquid to be shipped overseas. Gas producers will be able to choose to sell the gas in Australia, or ship it overseas. The eastern Australian gas market (that has been $3-$4 per gigajoule) will be linked to the world market and the world price, which sits at about $9 per gigajoule.

In fact, a recent report by the NSW Government Chief Scientist concluded:

“Gladstone’s LNG plants in Queensland will prepare huge volumes of gas for export to Asia where the gas price is significantly higher, meaning pressure on gas supply and price rises at the domestic level are anticipated in the short to medium term. This impending increase in export capacity is anticipated, by 2014, to lead to a greater production need, and will also mean that Australian east coast prices will rise to meet higher international prices”.

The growth of CSG in eastern Australia is what has made the LNG facilities viable. Without this the eastern market would not produce enough gas to make the LNG plants viable. Gas producers want to export gas overseas because the higher price means bigger profits. This is why there’s a push for more CSG in NSW. It has nothing to do with concern about price rises. Any expansion in gas production will see more exports and higher prices, not cheaper gas.

Special meeting – Sunday, 2pm, September 15

Thirroul Railway Institute Hall. Map

Independent think tank The Australia Institute is researching the impact of CSG growth on gas prices, and Mark Ogge will present their key findings. All welcome!