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Policy fails to protect water catchment says Stop CSG Illawarra

WHILE the launch of the NSW Government’s Strategic Regional Land Use Policy has been welcomed by State MP for Heathcote Lee Evans, the same can’t be said of the reaction to the new coal seam gas regulations from industry opponents.

Mr Evans said the 27 new initiatives to regulate the coal seam gas industry has been the subject of extensive community and stakeholder engagement. The policy extends well beyond the NSW Liberals and Nationals’ pre-election commitments and is supported by 40 new compliance and community liaison personnel, he said.

Key initiatives include:

* Creation of a Land and Water Commissioner position with an unfettered oversight role with respect to exploration across the State;

* A statewide Aquifer Interference Policy to protect crucial water resources by assessing potential impacts associated with mining and CSG activities; and

* New Codes of Practice for the coal seam gas (CSG) industry covering well drilling standards and hydraulic fracturing.

Resources Minister Chris Hartcher today released the Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Fracture Stimulation Activities and the Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Well Integrity following a 12 month moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing during coal seam gas drilling.

The Codes of Practice have been reviewed by experts co-ordinated by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, to ensure independent scientific rigour.

Mr Evans said the NSW Government has introduced stringent controls to address community concerns about environmental standards for coal seam gas exploration and production.

“In Opposition, we committed to reviewing gas well construction and hydraulic fracturing regulations to ensure that rigorous standards are in place following 16 long years of Labor inaction,” Mr Evans said.

“The development and release of these two Codes of Practice delivers on that election commitment and makes sure licence holders are both aware of and adhering to the high standards expected of them.

“All coal seam gas exploration and production titles will be subject to the new Codes of Practice, which will also be included as a condition of title.

“Failure to comply with title conditions can result in enforcement action against the title holder, including prosecution and title cancellation.

“The NSW Government will not, under any circumstances, compromise the health and sustainability of our water resources.”

Mr Evans said the creation of a new Land and Water Commissioner to oversee the regulation of exploration activity right across the State would restore community confidence in the processes governing exploration activities in NSW.

“The Commissioner will oversee the development of land access agreements, publish general remuneration information, appoint mediators where required, and facilitate greater consultation between government, the community and the industry,” Mr Evans said

“Under the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy released today, the Government has also ensured that there is transparency at every stage of the licencing process and communities have a say.”

The new Aquifer Interference Policy outlines the protection of underground water resources through objective assessment, including the risk of seepage between aquifers, impacts on the water table, water pressure levels, and water quality changes in different types of groundwater systems.

Since March 2011, the NSW Government has been working to strike a balance between resource development and the protection of the State’s valuable agricultural land, water resources, and the environment.

The final Policy follows an extensive period of consultation during which over 2,000 submissions were received and over 1,100 people attended public forums and information sessions.

Stop CSG Illawarra has described the plans released today as a disaster and a broken election promise; and one that fails to protect drinking water catchments.

Spokesperson Jess Moore said the government promised to create no-go zones to protect water, agriculture and the environment from CSG.

“This policy breaks this promise. It facilitates ongoing development of the industry starting with renewal offers to CSG companies.

“No part of NSW – not the land where food is grown, not our water catchments – is off limits to CSG development.”

Before the last state election, then NSW opposition leader and now Premier Barry O’Farrell made a promise to ban CSG mining in NSW drinking water catchments.

Ms Moore said the NSW Government’s new policy does not rule out CSG development in drinking water catchments

“There is now more than enough evidence that CSG mining brings risks. Our drinking water catchments should be protected from these risks. Water is more important than gas.

“CSG mining involves land clearing, gas leaks, contaminated water and industrial development. It draws water to the surface that is saline, contains methane and can contain toxic and radioactive compounds and heavy metals. It should not be allowed in the drinking water catchment,” Ms Moore said.

The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, the Aquifer Interference Policy, CSG Codes of Practice, fact sheets and frequently asked questions are available online.

About Mick Roberts

A newspaper journalist, writer and local historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of pubs, inns and associated industries in the Sydney and Illawarra regions of NSW for over 30 years. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides authoring a number of history books, Mick has owned and operated several community newspapers. He was one time editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), Sydney based, City News, and is now with Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW.

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