Approval for AGL’s controversial proposal to frack four coal seam gas wells near homes at Gloucesterappears imminent following the removal of a planning impediment.
As reported by Fairfax Media, the NSW government last month recommended a change to the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) that would allow AGL to conduct hydraulic fracturing – or fracking - near the town without completing a full environmental impact study (EIS).
After taking submissions on the amendment, the government gazetted the change within nine days.
The proposed exploration wells fall within three kilometres of existing wells at AGL’s Waukivory Pilot project south of Gloucester, a distance that would have required an EIS under the previous provisions.
The amendment, though, measures the three kilometres from the middle of existing wells rather than the nearest one, avoiding the EIS requirement.
John Watts, a spokesman for Groundswell Gloucester, a group opposed to the project, said the change had been designed specifically to enable AGL to fast-track its fracking and minimise public scrutiny.
“There has been a complete lack of openness and transparency in relation to the whole AGL CSG project and these changes are just one more disturbing example,” Mr Watts said.
“It seems that the government and AGL are working hand in glove and ignoring the interests of the Gloucester community.”
Sue Higginson of the Environmental Defenders Office, which had written to the Office of Coal Seam Gas about the zoning issue last November, said the way was now cleared for AGL to secure approval for the fracking.
“Less than half a kilometre has made the difference,” she said. “That’s the cause of the community’s cynicism.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Planning and Environment said a number of stakeholders had raised issues about the lack of clarity provided by the current mining SEPP in relation to coal seam gas.
“The proposed amendments resolve any unintentional anomalies in the planning rules, which apply for mining and coal seam gas, making the provisions clearer and less ambiguous for all stakeholders,” the spokeswoman said.
AGL welcomed the SEPP amendment.
"Our focus is on delivering Stage 1 of the Gloucester Gas Project, which has already been through a full environmental assessment and received approval from the independent NSW Planning Assessment Commission," an AGL spokeswoman said.
Opponents of the fracking say it may have unexpected consequences on aquifers as the 1000-metre deep wells intersect with fault lines.
Under the amended SEPP, AGL or other developers could potentially frack within a few metres of existing wells.
The closeness of wells to homes in the Camden area was one reason the government curtailed AGL's coal seam gas plans in south-west Sydney last year.
Fracking involves the injection of a mix of sand and chemicals under high pressure to create small fractures in the rock, allowing natural gas to migrate to the well.
AGL said its project had the potential to supply more than 15 per cent of the state's gas needs by 2018.