Coal Seam Gas companies own the Liberal and National parties in Queensland and NSW, lock, stock and barrel.
The Liberal government has given energy giant AGL approval to conduct fracking of coal seam gas wells within a few hundred metres of homes.
Energy Minister Anthony Roberts also renewed AGL’s petroleum exploration licence for the region near the Mid-North Coast of NSW for another six years after “rigorous assessment by the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG)”.
“The OCSG recommended the renewal of (the licence) due to AGL’s performance in relation to compliance, environmental performance, safety, its financial and technical capacity and its high level of community consultation,” Mr Roberts said in a statement.
Drilling for gas near Gloucester. Photo: Simone De Peak
However, John Watts, a spokesman for local group Gloucester Groundswell, said community consultation had “been totally disregarded” in the approval process.
AGL will be able to proceed with hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – of four existing wells close to homes “without proper scrutiny of the environment impacts”, Mr Watts said.
“The community will now view that it has no alternative but to take some peaceful direct action” to prevent the drilling going ahead, he said.
In a statement to the stock exchange, AGL chief executive Michael Fraser welcomed the approval for fracking at the Waukivory Pilot wells.
Stage 1 of the project had already been through "a full environmental assessment and received approval from the independent NSW Planning Assessment Commission," Mr Fraser said. Work would be conducted "in a safe manner, minimising disturbance to the local community", he said.
Fracking is back
Gas exploration has become a fractious issue in NSW with the government and gas companies keen to exploit reserves made economic by technological advances. Many local communities, however, fear prime agricultural lands will become industrialised and that interference with aquifers and the resulting “produced water” from wells will bring salts and other elements to the surface.
The Greens NSW mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham condemned the renewal of AGL’s exploration licence, saying fracking in the state would now resume with Gloucester residents given less protection than those in western Sydney.
“This is a clear signal that the Liberal and National parties are pro-fracking and pro-coal seam gas,” Mr Buckingham said.
"It’s outrageous that the people of Gloucester will have fracking within a few hundred metres of their homes, while people in the western suburbs (of Sydney) enjoy a two-kilometre buffer," he said.
“The community is overwhelmingly opposed, the scientists have warned of contamination of groundwater and the Manning River, and there is no clear plan to dispose of waste products."
Mr Buckingham predicted local protests would resemble those in Bentley in the Northern Rivers region which earlier this year prompted the government to suspend exploration by Metgasco.
Mr Roberts said AGL’s Camden project had fracked 117 wells – some near homes – since 2001 and had "operated safely".
The government’s focus on well integrity, bans on certain chemicals and evaporation ponds made the state’s CSG measures the strongest in the country, Mr Roberts told Fairfax Media.
“The engineering requirements, safety standards and monitoring requirements on AGL’s operations are extensive and the company is using state-of-the-art technology to ensure they know exactly what is occurring in the coal seam while fracking," he said.
While citizens had "every right to demonstrate, peacefully and lawfully…they do not have the right to damage property or endanger the safety of others,” the minister said.
As Fairfax Media reported earlier, a recent amendment to the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) cleared the way for AGL’s fracking approval at the Waukivory Pilot project near Gloucester without a full environmental impact study.
Prior to the amendment to the SEPP last month, exploration wells falling within three kilometres of existing wells required an EIS. After the modification, though, the three-kilometre range now starts from the centre of the existing well set.
“Less than half a kilometre has made the difference,” Sue Higginson of the Environmental Defenders Office said on Tuesday. “That’s the cause of the community’s cynicism.”
The new wells would be within a few hundred metres of homes and the local community wanted more public consultation – as would be required by an EIS – rather than the fast-tracked process that will now take place.
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 for extraction.
“AGL must comply with the NSW Government’s Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Fracture Stimulation Activities and Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Well Integrity,” Mr Roberts said in the statement. “The NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, provided independent comment and recommendations on the draft codes, based on advice from the expert reviewers,” he said.”
The ten chemicals to be used in the fracking are also found in most households, such as in food additives, soaps, detergents, hair products, cosmetics, medications and preservatives, the statement said.
While AGL’s licence was renewed for another six years, its exploration area will shrink by 25 per cent.
“NSW currently produces f5 per cent of its gas needs. AGL’s Gloucester project has the potential to increase that production to around 20 per cent," Mr Roberts said. "This will not be the only solution to our reliance on gas from interstate but it is a significant and vital step in the right direction to improve supply for NSW."