Stop Coal Seam Gas Sydney Inc
Thank you for this opportunity to make a submission.
Stop CSG Sydney formed in 2010 to oppose the test drill and mining of coal seam gas in St Peters, a suburb just 7 kilometres from the Sydney GPO.
Lessons from St Peters, Sydney
Residents found out by accident about plans to drill for coal seam gas at a privately-owned recycling facility adjoining Sydney Park.
They made enquiries when they noticed a drill rig and workers on the proposed mine site, which comprised an old industrial waste dump and a transfer depot for recyclable building materials.
We found that the NSW government had given Macquarie Energy approval to explore for coal seam gas (CSG) near homes, schools and parklands.
In fact the company had a licence (PEL 463) to explore across 189,000 hectares from Bundeena in the south to Rooty Hill in the west to Gosford in the north. It covered the whole of the Sydney basin as well as major water catchment areas.
The licence had been granted by the ALP government in 2008 (along with 37 others across NSW) without consultation with any of the councils covered by the licence. Licences were issued for $1000 for 1 million hectares.
St Peters was the first attempt by a company to undertake a CSG test drill in an urban setting in Australia. It’s not surprising the community reacted strongly to its quiet approval following publicity by Stop CSG Sydney and others.
Queensland, around Tara, provided enough evidence of the risks associated with exploration and mining for CSG and unconventional gas, and Gaslands, a film made by Josh Fox in the US, documented the risks.
One of the challenges in talking to neighbours about the gas exploration was being greeted with sheer disbelief: “Surely it’s a hoax”, was a common response.
It was no hoax.
In May 2011, Dart Energy (a subsidiary of Macquarie Energy) applied to extend its exploration licence to a production licence. It told the ASX (Stock Exchange) it planned to drill 10 wells on the site and wanted to start in September-October of that year. It told Stop CSG Sydney it was 95% certain that it would go on to produce gas on the site.
Stop CSG Sydney feared that a production licence would be granted by the then Keneally Labor NSW government and remove authority to make decisions about the use of the land out of the hands of the local council — Marrickville Council.
The Australia Institute’s Matt Grudnoff has outlined the risks of unconventional gas miningcomprehensively in its booklet Fracking the Future: Busting Industry Myths About Coal Seam Gas here.
After residents made their fears known and a campaign had started, Marrickville Council joined the call on the NSW government to stop to the test drill.
Because Dart Energy’s licence was due to expire in October 2011, Stop CSG attempted to meet with the NSW Minister for Mining Chris Hartcher, over many months. He never made himself available.
For many months, Stop CSG Sydney tried to organise a meeting with Dart CEO Robert De Weijer because he had publicly promised to consult with local communities. Eventually, he agreed to a date and the meeting took place at the St Peters Town Hall in 2011 where, in a standing room only hall, De Weijer and company officials were politely, but firmly, argued with.
History of PEL 463 — covering the Sydney basin
This short history of the venture by Macquarie Energy, later taken over by Dart Energy, into exploration and mining for coal seam gas in St Peters between 2010 and 2014 sheds light on a number of the issues being investigated by the Senate Select Committee.
- The ALP government originally issued the exploration licence — PEL 463 — to Macquarie Energyand it was re-issued by the Coaltion without adequate consultation with local government authorities or communities nor having undertaken a study the suitability of the Sydney Basin for gas exploration and mining. It was due to expire in November 2015.
- Under pressure from commuities, which had been developing networks across the state to defend land and water from the industry, the Liberal National Coalition government under the new minister Anthony Roberts commissioned a review of all licences.
- It also commissioned NSW Chief Scientist, Mary O’Kane, to undertake a 19 month inquiry (starting in 2013) into Coal Seam Gas Activities in NSW. The report, released late in 2014, made 16 recommendations which the NSW government agreed to adopt. It formed the basis of the NSW Gas Plan which was released in November 2014, partly to quell a rising movement against CSG in the lead up to the March 2015 state election. Some 266 public submissions were made to this inquiry. Dr Stuart Khan, a scientist who advised the Chief Scientist on her report, told Stop CSG Sydney in November 2014 that he thought it unlikely the unconventional gas industry would be able to carry out its work within the regulatory framework outlined by the report.The industry, predictably, said that it could and would.
- Stop CSG Sydney launched its Cancel the Licence campaign in August 2014. It called on the NSW government to cancel it on the basis that the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 allows the Energy and Resources Minister to cancel licences because of a company’s failure to meet licence conditions, including drilling within a specified time, financial standing and ability to comply with regulations. We argued that Dart Energy had has failed to meet the conditions of its licence and the community did not want mining in Sydney. Marrickville Council unanimously agreed to sign on its November meeting and committed itself to educate the LGA about the dangers of unconventional gas mining as well as investigate a non-binding poll in the 2016 council elections on CSG as a way of adding pressure to get the licence extinguished — if it hadn’t already been cancelled. Given the new 2-kilometre buffer zone laws, and the community opposition to CSG drilling, it is an anachronism that there still is a licence to drill in an area where more than 4 million people live and work, we said.
- On March 7, 2015, just before the NSW state election, the Baird government cancelled PEL 463. Following that, a number of other PELs wever cancelled and the industry was given financial compensated — as the new NSW Gas Plan made provision for. A poll of candidates standing for th state seat of Summer Hill, undertaken by Stop CSG Sydney, showed that the Liberals abstaining, and Labor wanting the industry to continue albeit in a more regulated form (see below).
All this shows that community pressure, which had built up over several years, was having an impact on the NSW government and ALP opposition. The Coalition government was forced to act as those opposing the industry with concerns about health issues, water supply and agricultural land contamination were too numerous to igore. Those opposing coal seam gas were also too politically diverse to be able to dismiss.
While some important concessions were won, it is also true that the NSW government was then — and still is now — trying to work out a way for the unconventional gas industry to proceed in NSW. It has suggested that new exploration licences will be issued in regional and remote areas of NSW by mid 2016.
NSW Coalition supports unconventional gas
1. The government and the unconventional gas industry have attempted to use the Chief Scientist’s report to reassure the public that mining coal seam gas is a safe industry.
2. The Chief Scientist’s report indicated that unconventional gas mining could be done safely under specific conditions even though it admitted that the health risks required further investigation. What we take from this is that specific conditions must be created for the industry to be considered safe. With only a few of the recommendations partially implemented, the science has demonstrated that the industry is currently unsafe.
3. The Chief Scientist’s recommendations called for very significant changes to the industry to make its operations safe, but there has been progress on less than half the recommendations in the year since the report was released.
4. An honest and responsible government response to the report would have been to place an immediate moratorium on the industry on any site where the conditions specified were not in place. No such response was made.
5. Instead, we see AGL continuing to mine near homes in south west Sydney suburbs in Camden and Santos pushing ahead with its project in the Pilliga State Forest near Narrabri.
6. The decision by AGL to halt operations in Gloucester in February — the result of sustained community opposition and economic reasons — was greeted with disappointment by the NSW government. Premier Mike Baird immediately asked the industry to propose new projects in NSW.
We submit that the risks of unconventional gas mining are too great for the industry to proceed, a moratorium should be implemented immediately and the industry should be shut down.
Health impacts in and around Camden
The community in Camden, in south west Sydney, are reporting health impacts on families living near the gas wells. Children suffer from skin irritations, eye inflammation and nose bleeds. It is difficult to scientifically establish the link between these chronic conditions and the local gas mining. However the families report that the children’s experience of the illnesses are greatly reduced when they are away from home. The conditions are less severe during school terms, which they are away from home.
The Chief Scientist’s report called for further investigations of the health impacts of unconventional gas in 2014, but so far no such study has begun.
In the absence of local research, we call on the Select Committee to consider the findings of studies such as the study by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York, published in 2014.
It brought together evidence for the risks and harms of unconventional gas from the findings of scientific and medical literature, government, industry and journalism.
It found that: “Public health problems associated with drilling and fracking are becoming increasingly apparent. Documented indicators variously include increased rates of hospitalization, ambulance calls, emergency room visits, self-reported respiratory and skin problems, motor vehicle fatalities, trauma, drug abuse, infant mortality, congenital heart defects, and low birth weight.”
Affected communities are convinced of the dangers of unconventional gas from their own experiences. Politicians and the industry are not listening to the communities and riding roughshod over their concerns. The research is long overdue and will take time to produce results. It must begin urgently.
The November 2015 report Unconventional Gas Exploration and Production: Human Health Impacts and Environmental Legacyby the National Toxics Network gives a very detailed description of the processes used in CSG mining and how and why they are extremely dangerous to the environment and to human health.
The research brings together facts about the toxic chemicals released by the drilling processes used and the toxic chemicals injected during hydraulic fracturing.
We commend this publication to the Committee because of the thorough way in which it explains the many dangers associated with this industry.
Improve the ‘water trigger’
At the Commonwealth level, an amendment to the The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which became known as the “water trigger”, was a welcome addition to legislation covering the coal seam gas industry.
It requires the Minister to assess and determine coal and coal seam gas mining projects which may affect water supplies, particular ground water, taking into account recommendations of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee.
We support the legislation and call for it to be strengthened through amendments to ensure:
- The Minister “must not act inconsistently” with the IESC’s advice when determining a project;
- Conditions of consent should be required to reflect the IESC’s advice; and
- The Minister must not approve a project until the developer has adequately addressed any concerns raised by the IESC in their report.
It does not make sense that the Minister can choose to ignore the advice of a high level and expensive scientific committee such as the IESC.
The mining industry has proved repeatedly and beyond doubt that it cannot be trusted with the future of this continent’s precious water supplies. We must be able to trust the decisions of the Minister because they are based on scientific evidence.
National regulations must provide communities, and especially traditional owners, with control over the mining industry’s access to land.
The current situation where farmers and traditional owners have no right to stop exploration and mining is abhorrent.
The Great Artesian Basin must be protected from unconventional gas mining.
Mining is the Pilliga State Forest is a great threat to one of our most important national resources. The Great Artesian Basin is necessary for future life in vast areas of Australia and must not be put at risk by short-term exploitation for unconventional gas.
Climate change and methane
While Stop CSG Sydney does not have a formal position on climate change, its members are active in the campaign because we respect and agree with international climate scientists’ warnings about the need to dramatically limit human-induced climate change through uncontrolled fossil fuel emissions. NASA, which is not a radical think-tank, says the same.
The economic benefits are not there
The unconventional gas industry and the politicians who support it have told us frequently, for many years, that we need this industry to supply enough gas for industrial and home use, to stop a price hike in the cost of gas to consumers, to create jobs and to develop rural communities.
We have opposed coal seam gas exploration and mining because the risks are far too high, particularly when much safer renewable energy sources could be rapidly developed to meet Australia’s needs.
We are aware that we may well be paying more for gas as consumers in the future, not because of gas shortages but because the gas being produced is being sent overseas — because the profits for the companies are greater.
It is becoming apparent that a major motivation for the unconventional gas industry push to exploit gas supplies in Australian in a way that has been demonstrated to be unsafe is to make profits in the international market while the profits are high.
There is evidence that this is a short-term situation and that in future international markets will be dominated by countries which can undercut Australian producers.
Final recommendation: Close down the unconventional gas industry until the science says it is safe
The scientific implications of potentially devastating risks of unconventional gas mining, and of the existence of safe and sustainable energy alternatives, lead Stop CSG Sydney to conclude that the industry must be shut down until the science says it is safe.
We are thankful that the Senate Select Committee is inquiring into the industry and propose that among its recommendations it calls for:
- An immediate moratorium on existing unconventional gas operations — in Camden and the Pilliga — leading to a permanent ban on unconventional gas mining. This is the only way to protect our water, farm land and health. The companies involved — AGL and Santos in NSW — should retrain those workers and find them new jobs.
A ban would give certainty to other long-standing and economically valuable industries and the people who work in them, such as agriculture and tourism. It would also lead to greater investment in renewable and benign sources of energy.
If no action is forthcoming Stop CSG Sydney recommends that Senator Glenn Lazarus demands a Royal Commission into the industry. This is the only lawful way to force the unconventional gas industry to disclose the toxic nature of the chemicals it uses, and its lack of waste disposal solutions to the toxic chemicals that the fracking process brings up from deep inside the earth.
National Toxics Network: Unconventional Gas Exploration and Production: Human Health Impacts and Environmental Legacy
Public submissions into the Chief Scientist report
The Australia Institute’s rebuttal of unconventional gas mining myths
Stop CSG Sydney FB page
Sydney residents against coal seam gas FB page
Pip Hinman, president Stop Coal Seam Gas Sydney Inc
on behalf of the committee