New gas exploration rules

The NSW Government has introduced new rules for coal seam gas exploration with tighter environmental controls and community consultation required as part of the licence conditions.

The changes mean applicants will have to submit plans detailing expected environmental impacts, all chemical additives will have to be listed in the review of environmental factors and detailed information must be provided to all affected landholders and councils.

The government will also examine banning the use of Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylene (BTEX) chemicals in situations which may pose a risk to groundwater.

The announcement was made by Premier Kristina Keneally last Sunday in response to community concerns about the process.

“The reality is natural gas is an important part of cleaner and more sustainable energy sources into the future,” Premier Keneally said. “However, it is important to get the balance right: managing our natural resources in an environmentally responsible way, with extensive community consultation – while moving the industry forward to a cleaner source of power.”

Judi Emmett from the Anti-Gas Squad, (a local group that formed after some exploratory drilling in the Keerong Valley earlier this year) has welcomed the announcement.

“It’s good on two points, the first is it shows that the politicians are listening and secondly, it is going to make it harder, more stringent, more transparent and safer I hope,” Ms Emmett said. “But I’m a bit of a sceptic and a few things still concern me. I just hope that DECCW, the Department of Planning and Industry and Investment (the bodies charged with enforcing the new requirements) take this seriously and do it properly.”

Ms Emmett also questioned the regional benefit of any successful gas exploration.

“Both Kristina Keneally and Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan have said that coal seam gas is an important source of clean energy for the future. But all the gas they are mining is going offshore. In some cases they’ve sold it to China before they’ve even found it, so there is no benefit for us. We need to use it here so we get the benefit. We’re selling our country away,” she said.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the legal processes for gas exploration and extraction, the Environmental Defenders Office will be holding a public seminar at the Red Dove Hall (corner of Keen and Woodlark Streets) on Wednesday, February 2, from 6-8pm.

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