Gas debate to get an airing

AS THE topic of coal seam gas (CSG) exploration heats up on the North Coast and several councils in the region call for a moratorium on the practice, a community legal centre is conducting seminars to inform landholders of their rights on the issue.

Richmond Valley Council, which presides over the Casino area where a 30-megawatt gas-fired power station has already been approved, has refused to support the moratorium and Clarence Valley Council has not committed either way.

The Environmental Defenders’ Office (EDO), which will hold an information session at South Grafton Ex-Servicemen’s Club on Thursday, is calling on the NSW Government to improve the regulations under which CSG is sought and extracted.

EDO education officer Mark Byrne said coal seam gas had become the number one environmental issue on the Northern Rivers in the past three years with many landowners concerned at their lack of rights when it came to the prized gas under their property.

“We are not scientists but there needs to be proper assessments of what environmental risks are in place. At the moment the regulatory system enables an ad hoc industry-led approach to the development of the CSG industry in NSW.”

According to the EDO, one of the main issues with the current system is the underlying assumption that exploratory activities for CGS are benign and that only much later in the process when CGS is intended to be produced through extraction, is there a more rigorous environmental assessment required.

The EDO argues that specific laws are required immediately as the CSG industry is new and expanding rapidly in NSW.

It says the new regulatory system should address:

The impacts on groundwater of exploration and production wells, especially but not exclusively from fracking;

The treatment of produced or waste water;

The provision of community consultation prior to the granting of petroleum exploration licences;

Thorough consideration of potential impacts on agricultural land, food security and bushland;

Monitoring of exploration wells (eg for fugitive emissions) and production wells and other facilities.

Three companies are currently exploring for coal seam and conventional gas in the Clarence Moreton Basin, which covers much of the Northern Rivers.

Metgasco Limited already has approval for a 30-megawatt gas-fired power station near Casino and is currently seeking planning approval for a gas pipeline from Casino over the Border Ranges to Ipswich.

The South Grafton presentation starts at 6pm next Thursday and is sponsored by the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition and the Clarence Environment Centre.

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