the initial report of an independent review into coal seam gas activities in new south Wales conducted by the state’s chief scientist and engineer says more trust building needs to be done.
Professor Mary O’Kane, who was commissioned in February by NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to conduct the study, recommended the State Government take steps to build public trust in its capacity to oversee a safe coal seam gas industry.
“CSG … has proven divisive chiefly because of the emotive nature of community concerns, the competing interests of the players, and a lack of publicly-available factual information,” she said.
She recommended the government establish a coal seam gas extraction regime – including mandatory employee and contractor training, rigorous monitoring, hefty penalties for licence breaches and a system for the assessment of environments where multiple industries operated.
Another recommendation involved the design and establishment of a data repository for all state-held environment data, including data collected associated with water management, gas extraction, mining, manufacturing, and chemical processing activities.
Thirdly, the report recommended the government calculate a subsidence baseline for the whole of the state, going back about 15 years, before coal seam gas developments took place, and then developing an annual subsidence map to trace any changes.
“The challenges faced by government and industry are considerable and a commitment from all parties will be required to improve the existing situation and build trust with the community,” she said.
While the report said CSG extraction could pose human health and environmental challenges, it said these could be offset by ensuring best practice, industry monitoring, compliance checks by regulators and an immediate response should an incident occur.
Federal Resources Minister Gary Gray welcomed the report, saying the development of a multi-use land framework by the national and state governments would help provide best-practice principles.
“The framework is based on sound science and environmental assessments which will assist jurisdictions to develop appropriate regulations to ensure the sustainable development of this resource.”
Professor O’Kane said the review would continue into 2014, focusing on the legal rights of landholders, examining appropriate levels of industry insurance and conducting a full industry compliance study.