GROUNDSWELL Gloucester has hit out at plans by the State government to introduce new legislation that would allow coal seam gas fracking to take place close to homes and without any community input.
The group’s vice president David Hare-Scott said the change to the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) announced by the Department of Planning last week was aimed at allowing AGL to frack four wells as part of its Waukivory pilot project.
Under existing rules, if the proposed wells are within 3km of an existing well, they are deemed a State-significant development requiring an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Under the rule change, the 3km rule will begin at the geometric centre of the new wells, not the nearest one.
Groundswell has long argued that under the government’s current SEPP an EIS rather than the Review of Environmental Factors (REF) AGL has submitted should be required for the Waukivory pilot.
The key difference between an EIS and an REF is that the public have a right to contribute to an EIS, but not an REF.
“There are two areas of concern with this,” Mr Hare-Scott said.
“The first is that is allows the general nature of the processes to take place in-house behind closed doors.
“The second is that it allows AGL to go ahead with more fracking anytime they want to.”
Mr Hare-Scott has also questioned AGL’s involvement in the shaping of the legislation.
“On the same day the change to the legislation was proposed by the Department of Planning, AGL placed two advertisements in the Advocate,” he said.
“One tells the community they are starting work soon and the other advertises new job vacancies including a field operator to work on gas wells in Gloucester.
“These ads must have been prepared well before the public announcement of the revised legislation. Clearly AGL can see into the future.”
AGL says it is still reviewing the proposed changes to the policy and has asked for clarification from the department.
The company said the REF submitted for the Waukivory pilot was more than 1000 pages long and was in addition to the approval of stage one of the Gloucester Gas Project.
“Stage one of the Gloucester Gas Project has already been through a full environmental assessment and received approval from the independent NSW Planning Assessment Commission, which was upheld by the Land and Environment Court,” a spokeswoman said.
A spokesman for the Planning Minister Pru Goward told Fairfax Media the government considered the amendment to the SEPP “to be minor”.
The amendment created certainty for the industry and the community by removing “ambiguous” wording in the current policy, he said.
“The Office of Coal Seam Gas has to still carry out an environmental assessment under part five of the [Environmental Planning and Assessment] act in connection with the wells,” he said.
Mr Hare-Scott said Groundswell had been trying to get clarification from the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) on the existing policy for months.
After obtaining legal advice last November, Groundswell requested the OCSG apply the existing SEPP requiring AGL to submit an EIS for its Waukivory pilot or explain why it was not applicable.
The group has still not received a response.
“The lack of accountability from the OCSG is staggering,” Mr Hare-Scott said.
“They’ve neither said the existing legislation would apply or that our interpretation was wrong.”
NSW Opposition leader John Robertson said the government push to change the legislation was sneaky and would only benefit miners.
“They are designing a loophole to benefit CSG and unconventional gas miners at the expense of families in NSW,” he said.
“Fracking causes all sorts of consequences and raises very serious concerns about contamination to water aquifers, our water supplies.
“This plan without a full EIS in my opinion heightens the risks of compromising the planning system and our water.
“Labor’s position is clear. We should press the pause button on the industry until there is conclusive scientific evidence that there are no adverse environmental risks from coal seam and unconventional gas activities.”
Comments on the revised SEPP can be lodged with the Department of Planning website until July 16.