RESPONSE to questions delivered by protestors to Metgasco's Casino office on Tuesday, March 13.
Metgasco is proud of its efforts to work openly and consult with the community. The accusation that we do not consult or share information with the local community is simply not correct.
We do our best to be open and transparent, within the bounds of commercial confidentiality that any company must observe, and we stand by our track record.
All our environmental and development submissions are available on government websites for the community to review. As an example, the public can review the larger Part 3A development application of the Richmond Valley Power Station (and Casino Gas Project). There was a community consultation process as part of this Part 3A approval.
In an industry that is as regulated as ours, it would be difficult to do anything other than operate in an open and transparent manner.
We share information on our website and in community publications and regularly attend community forums. We note the comment by Mr Ian Gaillard, Lock the Gate Northern Rivers co-ordinator, at a meeting chaired by MP Thomas George on December 5 last year that "I commend Peter (Henderson) who turns out to everything".
Question 1 - How many coal seam gas wells does Metgasco plan for the North Coast?
We have been careful not to express a specific number of wells, giving only approximate numbers because there is uncertainty about the number. The number of wells we need and when we need to drill them will depend on how big the market is and the productivity of the wells. The point that is missing is that we do not have approval to develop and produce the coal seam gas yet. We are in the exploration and testing phase. Before we have development approval we will need to submit detailed plans to the government for review and go through a community consultation process. At this stage there will be detailed plans showing amongst other things, the number and type of wells, proposed production facilities, and water treatment plans.
It is premature to get lost in details until we are ready for these development and environmental submissions. We are, however, aware of the need to minimise our footprint on the land and have quoted our confidence that our wells and facilities will occupy less than two per cent of the land. And, of course, when the gas has been produced, the land must be rehabilitated.
We have no doubt that we can co-exist with other landholders.
Question 2 - why does Metgasco insist that their holding ponds are legal when the Richmond Valley Council has said they are not?
We have followed and complied with our obligations under the construction approvals granted by Richmond Valley Council and we believe the development approval granted to us by Council for the two ponds on council land is valid. The Council has a different view on the duration of the development approval for the ponds. Notwithstanding our firm belief that the development approval in respect of the ponds remains valid, in the interests of preventing Metgasco and Council from incurring any unnecessary costs in relation to this difference, we have reapplied for a development approval. We expect the development approval process to be completed shortly.
Questions 3 and 4 - Why has Metgasco's chief financial officer admitted to carting water away from holding ponds when they said that the ponds would easily have the capacity to store whatever volumes would be deposited there? Where did the waste water go?
We have been using the two ponds on council land now for more than four years and have never had a spill or an overflow, despite flood events and periods of high rainfall. Indeed, in our 6 years of operations we have never had a reportable environment incident. The Richmond Valley Council (RVC) has been advised that the only waste water removed from the site was utilized by us for drilling fluid, recaptured as part of the drilling process and returned ultimately to the holding pond as waste water.
Even if transferring water had been necessary, it is worth nothing that the acting general manager of RVC said that the RVC had no issue with water being removed from the site "if it is being transported, reused and/or disposed of in an environmentally responsible and appropriate manner."
Question 5 -Why does Metgasco continue to claim the waste water is saline when in fact it has been shown to be toxic and full of chemicals?
It is simply not correct to suggest that our CSG waste water has been shown many times to contain extremely harmful substances such as heavy metals, radionuclides and BTEX compounds. Tests results have shown that our production water is not toxic.
Question 6 - How can Metgasco claim their operations are safe based on overseas examples and ignore increasing evidence of multiple disasters from those same sites including birth defects?
There is no credible evidence that CSG operations have a negative impact on humans and livestock. Oil and gas operations have been in existence for over 100 years and have had an enormously beneficial impact on our society, without the adverse impacts that are inferred by the question. Similarly, CSG operations have operated safely in Australia for over 16 years and following extensive reviews have the support of Australian, Queensland and NSW governments.
The accusations implied in the question are without support. Our opponents should check their facts and be able to support them scientifically before libelling the industry.
Question 7 - Can Metgasco assure local residents that the disastrous impacts of gas mining on agricultural, health and psychosocial balance, now apparent in Queensland, won't happen here?
We are not aware of any credible claims that link health issues to the CSG industry in Queensland, nor do we share the view that there are problems with "psychosocial" balance in Queensland. There are multiple reports of individuals and local communities in Queensland that support CSG because of the jobs and security it brings.
The NSW government already has planning and development approvals in place to ensure that health and safety standards are maintained, that landholder and CSG company interests are balanced, and that the community is consulted.
Question 8 - Why does Metgasco make landholders sign a secrecy clause when entering lease agreements?
Before entering a site, Metgasco negotiates a voluntary access agreement with the landholder. The agreement is there to ensure that both parties are aware of each other's needs and to adequately compensate the landholder. These agreements have generally been kept confidential to protect the interests of the individual landholders and CSG companies, many of whom do not want their private business shared with others. Those who would like more details of the agreements we enter into are welcome to read the submission we made to the NSW Upper House CSG inquiry in the second half of 2011.
It is also worth noting that the NSW Government has prepared a draft code of conduct which will describe how land access agreements are to be negotiated and implemented.
Question 9 - Why did Metgasco not tell the community about a spill of toxic waste from one of their holding ponds into a nearby creek?
Metgasco has never had a breach in a dam wall that has allowed waste water to spill into neighbouring waterways. We maintain our ponds as required.
Question 10 - Why did it take coal seam gas opponents to provide photo evidence of torn and leaking holding ponds before repairs were made?
We did allow an unused pond at a Dobie's Bight site to fall into disrepair. It subsequently filled up with fresh rainwater. The site was examined by the responsible Department - no environmental breaches were identified.
Question 11 - What will happen to the thousands of tonnes of highly concentrated soluble toxic waste buried as land fill when it gets wet?
There are range of environmentally acceptable means of treating the produced water, using the treated water and disposing of any solid waste. Before we are given the right to develop and produce the CSG, we will need to make development and environmental submissions to explain plans in detail, and we will need to satisfy the government reporting and audit requirements through the life of the project.
Question 12 - How can Metgasco claim it can safely dispose of toxic waste when England, France, Bulgaria and now a number of American states have decided there is no safe way of disposing this toxic waste?
Although certain countries and states in the USA do not support fraccing, which is only one small part of the industry, numerous countries and states in the USA support not only the oil and gas industry in general but also the use of fraccing. We know of none that have decided that there is no way of handling waste from CSG activities. It is also unfortunate that some people insist on using the word "toxic" in every statement they make - this is an emotive approach that encourages uniformed decision making and judgments.
Question 13 - What does Metgasco say about examples where farm bores have dried up, are producing toxic water or even explosive gas?
Metgasco is not aware of any farm bores drying up as a result of CSG operations. The water we produce from our wells is salty and will be treated as part of any ongoing development. The safe management of gas production and household use is an everyday event in Australia.
Mr Mark Harris (Acting Director for Water Policy, New South Wales Office of Water) and Mr Brad Mullard (Executive Director, Mineral Resources and Energy, Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services) have both stated that they are not aware of any cross-contamination of aquifers as a result of coal seam gas activity.
In a public meeting organised by Thomas George MP in December last year, Mr Mullard stated that he was not aware of examples of cross contamination of aquifers as a result of coal seam gas activity and invited participants to write to him and provide him with examples. As at 14 March 2012, no such examples have been provided to the NSW Government.
Question 14 - Does Metgasco expect the community to ignore that a high proportion of well cement casings crack over time and that explosive and toxic gases commonly leak once gas fields are dewatered?
The statement about well integrity and its consequences is incorrect.
Metgasco adheres to international standards for well construction which are based on industry practices over 100 years and which are designed to prevent leaks to the atmosphere or aquifers.
Question 15 - How can the community expect industry self monitoring to protect our community the possible adverse consequences of coal seam gas?
The NSW upstream gas sector is well regulated and must comply with a number of acts including:
• Petroleum (Onshore) Act;
• Environmental Planning and Assessment Act;
• State Environmental Planning Policies;
• Native Titles Act (both State and Federal)
• National Parks and Wildlife Act;
• Native Vegetation Act;
• Rivers and Foreshores Improvement Act;
• Rural Fires Act; and
• Water Management Act and Water Act.
• Fisheries Management Act
• Threatened Species Conservation Act
The NSW government is currently reviewing the regulatory environment and has introduced a number of new major policies, including the Strategic Regional Land Use and the Aquifer Interference policies, and is working on other codes of conduct. If people have comments about policies being considered by the NSW Government they should respond prior to 3 May 2012.
It is, and has always been Metgasco's policy to comply with or exceed all applicable government regulations and industry codes of practice.
The industry can provide significant benefits to local communities. For example, the Mayor of the Western Downs Regional Council (which includes the town of Tara), Ray Brown recently said "the burgeoning industry had already halted the drift away from rural areas and created more jobs than the region could handle".
The development of the industry in the northern rivers is already beginning to have the same impact, resulting in more jobs for locals and greater economic sustainability.
The industry is understood and it is regulated. The government's review and approval process provides a means for the public to understand and contribute to plans. Metgasco encourages people to understand the regulatory approval process, to read government and industry websites and to take advantage of the information that is already available.