CSG a risky business, needs strict controls

IN releasing her final report into the coal seam gas industry in NSW, chief scientist Mary O'Kane found there were real risks to water and the environment, but that these could be successfully managed.

The 23-page report has 16 recommendations to government, including careful designation of areas appropriate for CSG extraction; high standards of engineering and professionalism in CSG companies; the creation of a state Whole-of Environment Data Repository; comprehensive monitoring of CSG operations with ongoing scrutiny of collected data; a well-trained and certified workforce; and applying new technologies as they become available.

Significant work for industry

The chief scientist said adhering to the recommendations would involve significant work for the industry.

"Implementing the recommendations of the review involves non-trivial tasks," Professor O'Kane said.

She also warned that as the industry moved into areas where detailed hydrology is not yet fully understood, "there could be unexpected events, learnings, or even accidents".

"This is common for new applications in the extractive industries and underlines the need for government and industry to approach these issues with eyes wide open, a full appreciation of the risks, complete transparency, rigorous compliance, and a commitment to addressing any problems promptly with rapid emergency response and effective remediation."

Call for cancellation of licences

Gasfield Free Northern Rivers' spokesperson Elly Bird has again called for the cancellation of all CSG licences in the Northern Rivers.

"The chief scientist's report confirms that there are serious risks from unconventional gas mining, including to human health and water supplies, and highlights the fact that there are major deficits in the baseline data required to properly monitor the impacts of the industry.

"It's abundantly clear that this invasive and high-risk industry should not be allowed anywhere in the Northern Rivers. Our community will settle for nothing less than the cancellation of all licences across the region." she said.

But industry groups received the review positively.

Industry not risky

Energy Resource Information Centre director Steve Wright said the review demonstrated that the CSG industry was not risky, if appropriate safeguards were implemented.

"The science is in, and the recommendations are clear - unconventional gas resources can be developed safely with appropriate regulation and oversight," Mr Wright said.

"This report put paid to many of the emotive and alarmist claims made by anti-industry groups."

NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson welcomed the report and called for the government to implement all 16 recommendations without delay.

"In many ways, (the chief scientist's) findings come as no surprise and reinforce and validate what it is that we ... have been saying for a long time now.

Not a green light

"We would, however, strongly caution against the report being characterised by government and industry as a 'green light' for coal seam gas extraction in this state. This is an ill-informed approach as there are a number of quite strong recommendations, all very necessary," Ms Simson said.

Ms Simson said she was particularly encouraged by the idea of "permitted areas" for CSG extraction.

"We have always made it clear that we are not against this industry, but there are areas that should be off limits. This recommendation supports that notion and asks that the government use its planning powers and capability to designate those areas of the state in which CSG activity is permitted to occur.

"Another important issue highlighted in the report is in relation to insurance. ... We simply will not and cannot accept a situation whereby landholders are put in jeopardy financially for issues that are outside their control."

Know more

To see the chief scientist's full report, go to http://www.chiefscientist.nsw.gov.au and follow the link.

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