The inexplicable Chris Hartcher

Chris Hartcher: Please explain

Minister Hartcher has made some extraordinary claims regarding the track record of unconventional gas extraction. So extraordinary (and so contradictory) that he needs to explain himself.

Hartcher’s comments would be laughable, if the consequences were not so deadly serious.

In late January 2013, Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph reported some astonishing statements from the NSW Minister for Resources and Energy, Chris Hartcher, on the issue of coal seam gas. His assertions are breathtaking. So much so that, if true, they should certainly change the entire course of the coal seam gas debate.

Unfortunately, the Ministers comments are false. Not just misconstrued or economical with the truth; they are blatantly untrue.

In the article, Mr Hartcher tells the Telegraph’s State Political Reporter:

“There are two million gas extraction wells throughout the world now, and it’s difficult for the anti-gas protesters to point to one that is causing problems. The challenge for them is to find a single example where the water has been tainted or the ground has been damaged. But they don’t have a single example – anywhere in the world.

This bold statement is so easily refuted it’s laughable. Or at least, it would be if the long record of ground and water contamination associated with unconventional gas extraction worldwide wasn’t so deadly serious.

Mr Hartcher might have taken a moment to read this summary of issues across several US states, including a report that gas drilling has degraded water in dozens of water wells [PDF] in one county in Colorado. It is just one of many such reports.

Even the CSG industry has conceded that drilling will inevitably damage aquifers.

Incidents in Australia (that have come to light) include tests of water and earth around CSG sites in the Pilliga forest that found toxic heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead and chromium. The Queensland government has found multiple cases of cancer causing BTEX chemicals at CSG sites. Tellingly, even the industry itself has conceded that drilling will inevitably damage aquifers.

But perhaps the best summary can be provided by the Minister himself. Whilst in opposition, Chris Hartcher gave an impassioned speech about the threats posed by coal seam gas:

“It is well-known that in the northern Pilliga forest, massive environmental damage was caused by Eastern Star Gas at its Bohena No. 2 drill site as a result of exploration practices. Experiences in the United States of America, and in the State of Wyoming especially, clearly demonstrate disastrous problems associated with this industry through groundwater loss, contamination and waste water… the ground water issue is not an irrelevancy or one to be dismissed in a single rhetorical phrase. It is at the very heart of this debate.”

Mr Hartcher goes on in The Sunday Telegraph article to claim that those opposed to CSG have “been allowed to spread misinformation and stir up fear in the community without being properly held to account by the government or industry” – further compounding the sheer, bare-faced hypocrisy. It’s little wonder that Alan Jones recently described Mr Hartcher as ‘a rankly incompetent minister’ .

The NSW government has now removed all public health experts from the board of the Sydney Catchment Authority and installed a former mining executive as chair to pave the way for CSG mining directly within the drinking water catchment of 4.5 million people, despite a clear “no ifs, no buts” guarantee from Barry O’Farrell not to do so.

Mr Hartcher and other members of the NSW government: Do you really believe the NSW public to be as short-sighted, rash and forgetful as yourselves? It is evidently this government that needs ‘calling to account’, not those members of the public working hard to protect our water, health and environment against the CSG industry and a government so clearly in league with it.

We’ll leave the last word to Mr Hartcher himself, from his wonderfully passionate CSG opposition speech:

“We face a serious issue and we are entitled to a better explanation from the Government.”

Quite so.

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