Farmers have accused the O’Farrell Government of selling out the long term interests of regional New South Wales by not adequately protecting aquifers from coal seam gas extraction.
NSW minister for resources and energy, Chris Hartcher, yesterday released the NSW Government’s Draft Aquifer Interference Policy, which he described as a “suite of tough controls” designed to regulate the CSG industry.
However NSW Farmers says it has been stunned by the fact the policy allows activities that could cause permanent damage to the State’s aquifers to proceed without first requiring aquifer interference approvals.
“This draft policy released today could allow invasive activities such as fracking and test pilot production of coal seam gas to continue – on strategic agricultural land without the need for an aquifer interference approval,” NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said.
“The O’Farrell Government promised the voters of NSW that its Strategic Regional Land Use Policy would restore balance and create certainty for the community – and protect our underground water systems.
“Today the NSW Government has failed!”
Minister Hartcher said the a draft code of practice released yesterday set minimum standards of conduct expected of licence holders.
It also established a best practice framework covering community relations, landholder involvement and the use and protection of water resources, and required:
- Licence holders to make immediate contact with landholders, both in writing and in person
Licence holders to have an Access Arrangement with all landholders on whose land they will be exploring
- Licence holders to be willing to reimburse all reasonable legal costs to allow landholders to engage a solicitor to review any proposed agreement
Compensation to be paid to offset any inconvenience, noise, and use of land
- Explorers to keep landholders informed of progress and variations in exploration activities
Explorers to rehabilitate discontinued well sites to their previous state or as agreed with the landowner and to a standard acceptable to the Government
- All coal seam gas exploration licences will be subject to the Code of Practice which will be included in the explorer’s licence conditions.
The Government’s new Community Consultation Guidelines work to improve interactions between communities and coal seam gas explorers.
New Community Consultation Guidelines also released by the minister yesterday require:
- Detailed advertisement of exploration licence applications
- Evidence of effective community consultation
- Annual reporting of community consultation, including how complaints and feedback have been dealt with
- Contact with the General Managers of Local Government Councils within the area of the licence
“The coal seam gas industry in NSW is now subject to the toughest controls in Australia,” Mr Hartcher said.
However NSW Farmers says that while promising balance and protection, the Government appeared to be continuing a proud tradition of selling out the long term interests of NSW in the hope of a quick buck.
“By limiting its new draft Aquifer Interference Policy to post-exploration activities, this new protection will only apply when the damage of drilling and bulk sampling has been done,” Fiona Simson said.
NSW Farmers helped develop the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy that would protect the State’s strategic agricultural land and water resources. It has also sat on the Stakeholder Reference Group which oversees its implementation.
This Government had had almost 12 months to deliver on those protections but so far had failed to rule a single hectare of NSW off-limits.
“It is also alarming that the Government would allow hundreds of current exploration and mining licences to continue business as usual, as the new policy will be limited to future applications only.
“NSW needs strong legislation that does not allow mining and coal seam gas activities to proceed if it places our precious land and water resources at risk.
The NSW Farmers is also calling on landholders to review the Hunter and New England North West Plans released by the Government and provide individual submissions by early May.
It is offering more information for farmers on how to get involved on its website www.nswfarmers.org.au
The draft Code will be released for public comment for a period of eight weeks to allow the community and stakeholders to have a say.