NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has announced a new package of measures designed to further strengthen the regulation of the Coal Seam Gas industry in New South Wales.
Mr O'Farrell said the NSW Government has listened to community concerns about coal seam gas, and the new measures build what are already the toughest CSG controls in the country.
The package makes suburbs, country towns and other urban areas no go zones for CSG activities in NSW and establishes the Environment Protection Authority as "the cop on the beat".
The EPA will be empowered to revoke licenses from any companies that do not adhere to their license conditions.
“My Government has listened and acted. Local Liberal and Nationals MPs have also made strong representations on behalf of their communities. These actions clearly place public health and safety at the heart of all CSG activities,” Mr O'Farrell said in media statement announcing the new measures this morning.
Under the package endorsed by Cabinet:
• A two kilometre exclusion zone will be imposed around residential areas to prevent new CSG exploration, assessment and production activities covering both surface and underground works;
• Exclusion zones will apply to identified critical industry clusters, such as the viticulture and equine industry;
• The independent Environment Protection Authority (EPA) will be the lead regulator of environmental and health impacts of CSG activities in NSW and be responsible for compliance and enforcement;
• All exploration, assessment and production titles and activities will be required to hold an Environment Protection Licence;
• The Chief Scientist and Engineer will conduct an independent review of all CSG activities in NSW, including the impact on water catchments
• An Office of Coal Seam Gas Regulation will be established within the Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services.
Mr O’Farrell said the establishment of exclusion zones will ensure there is no repeat the former Labor Government’s handing out of exploration licenses in residential areas.
“Families in residential areas should not have to worry about their quality of life being affected by the noise, visual impacts and other effects of coal seam gas mining,” Mr O’Farrell said.
A two kilometre buffer will now be put in place for CSG activities for existing residential areas as well as lands earmarked for future growth such as the North West and South West Growth Centres.
Critical industry clusters identified under the Strategic Regional Land Use Plans, such as horse breeders and wine producers, will also be excluded.
The exclusion zone will affect any CSG activity that has not yet been approved under the EP&A Act or the Petroleum (Onshore) Act.
Mr O’Farrell said currently responsibility for approving and regulating CSG activities are spread across a number of agencies according to the type of activity conducted, leading to confusion and complexity for the community and industry.
“The EPA is a respected and trusted independent watchdog – it will be established as the agency responsible for enforcement and compliance of environmental and related health conditions for CSG,” Mr O’Farrell said.
“The EPA will be empowered to enforce conditions under the relevant environmental and mining laws – the EPA can seek to revoke licenses from any company that has
breached its conditions.
“My government re-established the EPA as an independent regulator and it is the appropriate body to play an expanded role in CSG regulation.”
The independent review by the Chief Scientist and Engineer will provide an evidence base to support better understanding of the CSG industry in NSW and identify any gaps in the management of risks arising from CSG activities.
The Chief Scientist will also consider appropriate ways to manage the interface with residential properties in non-urban areas. A preliminary report will be delivered to the government in July this year.
“This package will be welcomed by the community and the CSG industry as it increases certainty and significantly streamlines the regulation process,” Mr O’Farrell said.
“We want a sustainable CSG industry in NSW but it must be developed safely and with the appropriate environmental protections in place.
“The NSW community should never forget that it was Labor that handed out CSG exploration licenses with no regulation and scant regard for local residents or the environment.
“Once again this government is working hard to clean up Labor’s mess.”
NSW Farmers welcome measures
NSW Farmers released the following statement in response to Premier Barry O'Farrell's new CSG measures this morning:
"NSW Farmers welcomed the announcement overnight of a tougher approach to coal seam gas regulation by Premier Barry O’Farrell.
"The announcement coincides with a meeting in Sydney today of the association’s policy setting council comprised of 70 farmer representatives from around the state.
"Representatives at the meeting welcomed the announcement but also pointed out that more needs to be done to protect food and fibre producers, not just urban residents.
"NSW Farmers’ President Fiona Simson said the challenge for today’s Coalition party room meeting was simple – to seek a consistent approach for the entire agriculture sector as well as urban areas, vineyards and horse studs.
"“NSW Farmers has consistently advocated for a measured approach to mining and CSG policy. We believe there are places in this state that are too priceless to put at risk through mining and gas activities.
"“Today, the O’Farrell Government has reached the same conclusion but hasn’t extended that to our food and fibre producing lands. We think nothing should be more important.
"“We’re calling on today’s party room meeting to take four simple steps to make this announcement mean something for the bush. They are ruling our most productive farm land off limits and broadening this policy to coal and other minerals – not just coal seam gas,” Ms Simson concluded.
"Farmers from around the state said during debate today that it would be extremely disheartening to see the state government’s coal seam gas policy fail to value significant stretches of farm land the same way that residential and other industries are being valued."