THE State government has denied Gloucester residents have been omitted from a new 2km buffer zone preventing coal seam gas extraction (CSG) from residential areas.
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure said Gloucester had the same protections as all other residential zones in NSW, which prevented any new CSG activity.
Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner and Mining and Resource Minister Anthony Roberts released the State government’s revised policy on CSG last week.
Mr Stoner said the new laws safeguarded about 440,000 hectares of residential land on the North Coast, including future growth areas in the Great Lakes Shire.
He said an additional 250,000 hectares of farmland would be safeguarded by the government’s new Gateway process.
But opponents of CSG in Gloucester say the new legislation does not go far enough towards protecting local residents.
While the laws apply to any new CSG activity they do not apply to AGL’s existing approvals for stage one of its Gloucester Gas Project.
“We feel cheated. Gloucester is not included in the 2km exclusion zone from CSG wells, leaving thousands of residents living in the Gloucester valley at risk,” Groundswell Gloucester’s Julie Lyford said.
“Our homes are at risk, our health is at risk. We can’t trust the government to protect us.
“The announcement by the O’Farrell government specifically excludes Gloucester from protection. We are concerned that AGL maps showing gas wells close to family homes will become a reality.”
The Lock the Gate Alliance says the government’s new Gateway process is merely a “smoke and mirrors” policy that involves no real protection for those living in rural communities.
“The government also still has controversial plans pending to weaken the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 and introduce a Land Access Code that will facilitate access to farming land for CSG miners,” spokesman Phil Laird said.
“The government’s claims that it is striking a ‘balanced position’ simply don’t ring true, because gas mining giants still have the powers to force themselves onto farmers land.
“Perhaps the biggest betrayal in this package is the betrayal of farming families - urban areas trigger a 2km buffer but families living in farmhouses in rural NSW will have gas drillers on their doorsteps.”
AGL has also responded to the government’s announcement in lukewarm fashion. The company said it was still assessing what the legislation would mean for its gas assets, particularly those in the Hunter Valley.
“AGL is reviewing the details, including the Critical Industry Cluster maps, in order to evaluate the impact on AGL’s coal seam gas projects and natural gas reserves,” a spokeswoman said.
“As soon as we can fully assess the impact of the policy we will provide more information to the community.
“AGL notes that in a State which imports 95 per cent of its gas needs, preventing access to develop natural gas resources is likely to result in increased costs for goods and services which rely on gas for production (such as bricks and food) and may result in job losses as manufacturers close down, unable to absorb increased energy prices.”
“Natural gas can be safely produced in NSW. We know this as we have been producing natural gas at Camden for more than 13 years.”
The Greens spokesman on mining Jeremy Buckingham said the new laws protected just 3.4 per cent of the State from CSG mining and extraction.
“Only 3.37 per cent of the State’s land area is protected from fracking for coal seam gas and only 0.4 per cent of land is classified as a critical industry cluster,” he said.
“A total of 96.6 per cent of NSW, including most agricultural, environmental and tourism areas can still be turned into a gas field.
“The government has failed to apply the cluster regulation equitably or strategically, with only two agricultural industries gaining protection.
“Why is it that viticulture and equine industries have been granted protection from coal seam gas as critical industry clusters, but other valuable industries such as horticulture, rice and other cropping, irrigation areas, dairy, oysters, and tourism have no protection?”
“Andrew Stoner is disingenuous when he states that NSW has the strictest regulations on CSG as Victoria has a total ban on fracking until 2015.”