Tuesday, 13 January 2015

NSW Premier Baird, Energy & Resources Minister Roberts and local MPs Gulaptis, George and Page are spinning the Northern Rivers a dishonest unconventional gas tale

This is the advertisement which appeared in local newspapers this month spinning the pro-coal seam gas line that the NSW Baird Government and National Party MPs in North Coast electorates would like us to believe.

The NSW Gas Plan is the government’s new strategic framework to protect our water and environment while delivering vital gas supplies for the state.
Our water resources are protected through the most comprehensive regulatory controls for the gas industry in the nation.
The NSW government has introduced important protections, including an Aquifer Interference Policy, code of practice for well integrity and fracture stimulation and banned the use of harmful volatile organic compounds, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX chemicals), and evaporation ponds.
The NSW Gas Plan is the next step. It outlines the path to achieving a world class system to protect our water, environment, critical agricultural land and communities.
The NSW government has adopted all the recommendations by the independent NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, to ensure the new regulatory framework for the gas industry is based on science and is world’s best practice.
This new science-based regulatory framework adopts a strong compliance and enforcement regime, enhanced environmental monitoring, improved protections and benefits for landholders and communities.
The NSW Gas Plan introduces a new strategic release framework, which is a system that puts the government back in control of the release of title areas for exploration. 
This will allow the government to identify the most appropriate areas for exploration through a careful examination of economic, environmental and social factors with community consultation conducted up-front. 
Exploration for gas will be done on our terms.
The Environment Protection Authority, Office of Coal Seam Gas and the NSW Office of Water all monitor and supervise gas operations to ensure companies comply with the high engineering and environmental standards which now apply in NSW.
The independent Environment Protection Authority (EPA) will be proactive and fearless in its new role as the lead regulator for compliance and enforcement of conditions of approval for gas activities.
A project to provide baseline information about the state’s groundwater has been started by the government. The Groundwater Baseline Project is mapping and gathering data on the water used by agriculture, industry and mining.
This will ensure we have the critical data to ensure the use of our water is sustainable and available for future generations, while ensuring any changes to our water supplies are detected early.
The first areas to be analysed are the Gunnedah, Gloucester and Clarence Moreton basins. More information on these and other water projects are available from water.nsw.gov.au 
The NSW Gas Plan signals a new era for the gas industry and NSW. 
The government’s new science based regulatory framework protects our precious water and environment, ensures communities have a voice and we have a world-class regime to secure vital gas supplies for the state’s manufacturers, businesses and households that rely on gas every day.
For more information, please visit gasplan.nsw.gov.au

This is the reality for the Northern Rivers – under the NSW Gas Plan coal seam gas exploration tenements cover most of its land mass and span all its major river systems.

NSW Government Trade & Investment: Energy & Resources mapping as of 8 January 2015
Click on map to enlarge

The state government’s pro-coal seam gas advertisement states that; This new science-based regulatory framework adopts a strong compliance and enforcement regime, enhanced environmental monitoring, improved protections and benefits for landholders and communities. Actually there is no new science-based regulatory framework in place. This is something the Baird Government says it will start to put in place at an as yet unspecified time, which may possibly be in the second half of 2015.

It asserts Exploration for gas will be done on our terms as though this is a new and innovative stance. Mineral and petroleum mining within the state has always been done on the government of the day’s terms. The government’s right to decide is found in the NSW Constitution and state legislation, particularly the Mining Act 1992.

It goes on to say that the NSW government has adopted all the recommendations by the independent NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer. In fact the current NSW Gas Plan clearly shows it has not. 

In particular it has not fully explained the rationale/need for CSG extraction beyond a cursory attempt to talk about non-existent gas shortages and, the advertisement avoids that issue entirely.

The Baird Government’s gas plan certainly doesn’t fully encompass this recommendation in the NSW Chief Scientist’s September 2014 Final Report of the Independent Review of Coal Seam Gas Activities in NSW:

Recommendation 3
That Government investigate as a priority a range of practical measures for implementation (or extension of current measures) to allow affected communities to have strengthened protections and benefits including fair and appropriate:
• land access arrangements, including land valuation and compensation for landholders
• compensation for other local residents impacted (above threshold levels) by extraction activities
• funding (derived from the fees and levies paid by CSG companies) for local councils to enable them to fund, in a transparent manner, infrastructure and repairs required as a consequence of the CSG industry.

Nor is there any adequate mention of this:

Recommendation 4
That the full cost to Government of the regulation and support of the CSG industry be covered by the fees, levies, royalties and taxes paid by industry, and an annual statement be made by Government on this matter as part of the Budget process.

In fact where the gas plan briefly speaks of royalties, it does so in terms of ensuring that these are favourable to the advancement of the commercial interests of mining companies.

As for the recommended appropriate and proportionate penalties for non-compliance, apart from one 21-word 'motherhood' sentiment, the concept of penalties is missing in action.

The Liberal-Nationals broadly-worded Gas Plan also appears to deliberately avoid this statement contained in the Chief Scientist’s Independent Review:

There is a need to understand better the nature of risk of pollution or other potential short- or long-term environmental damage from CSG and related operations, and the capacity and cost of mitigation and/or remediation and whether there are adequate financial mechanisms in place to deal with these issues. This requires an investigation of insurance and environmental risk coverage, security deposits, and the possibility of establishing an environmental rehabilitation fund. Doing this is essential to ensure that
the costs and impacts from this industry are not a burden for the community.

A promise of community consultation conducted up-front is found in the advertisement, but the Gas Plan itself is silent about how and when this will occur in any instance.

The one thing I can say with certainty about the Baird Government’s intentions towards the Northern Rivers region is that its Gas Plan is nothing more than a document without force of law. It is a public statement of intent vaguely promising a fair go, which was obviously written with the March 2015 state election in mind.

* The Daily Examiner image courtesy of Yuraygir Coast and Range Alliance

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