By Ross Verne
INDUSTRY organisations and gas producers have celebrated chief scientist Mary O’Kane’s findings that the NSW coal seam gas industry is manageable, but both sides of politics maintain there is still work to be done.
Dr O’Kane’s report gave the green light to coal seam gas extraction on the proviso that only appropriate geographic areas be targeted, companies and employees be held to the highest standards, and recording and monitoring of data be ongoing – all under an overhauled legislative and regulatory framework.
More than a month after the release of the final report, the NSW government is yet to provide an initial response to the findings, something shadow energy minister Adam Searle says should have already happened.
Mr Searle also accused the government of “kicking the issue into touch” by extending the moratorium on onshore exploration just a week before Dr O’Kane released her report.
“Unfortunately this government’s approach has been characterised by knee jerk reactions designed to minimise electoral impact rather than a properly considered long-term policy,” Mr Searle said.
Despite his criticism of the timing of the moratorium, Mr Searle said it should remain in place because the report flagged a number of uncertainties around CSG extraction.
“Given the potential dangers to water, food production and environmentally constrained lands, and impacts on communities, we cannot in all good conscience proceed until we know whether these risks can be properly managed.”
Among the report’s 16 recommendations are calls for the government to communicate the need for onshore extraction to address the state’s looming gas shortage, enact strengthened protections and benefits for communities, and to establish an expert advisory body with representatives drawn from science and engineering.
NSW energy minister Anthony Roberts said the government would respond to the recommendations “in due course”.
Mr Roberts said the government had already introduced measures to improve community consultation, citing an agreement between AGL, Santos and local stakeholders on land access.
“It highlighted the right of a landowner to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to activities on their land,” he said.
Metgasco boss Peter Henderson, whose Rosella exploration well in Bentley was scuppered earlier this year by the exploration freeze, welcomed the report’s findings.
“The gas industry operates all around the world and has done so for many years, with an overwhelming positive benefit to society,” Mr Henderson said.
APPEA chief executive Paul Fennelly encouraged those opposed to CSG extraction to read the report.
“Look at the science, look at the facts, and look at the industry’s many decades of safe operations,’ he said.
Mr Searle said the federal government should use the time imposed by the moratorium to develop an Australia-wide gas reservation policy.
“Every other gas producing nation either has an explicit policy, or requires those seeking an export license to satisfy certain criteria one of which is the satisfactory availability of gas for domestic users,” he said.