Moratorium on coal seam gas extraction in Sydney’s drinking water zone by Melinda James and Sue Daniel, November 13, 2013, ABC News
Last month the Opposition introduced legislation that would permanently ban all CSG activity in the special areas in a bid to pressure the government to do the same. Until now the government has said its aquifer interference policy was sufficient to protect Sydney’s drinking water and accused Labor of hypocrisy last month over the opposition bill. But the Liberal Member for Kiama, MP Gareth Ward says the government will now introduce a temporary ban effective immediately. “People have been raising with me the fact that they do not believe that extracting or exploring for coal seam gas in precious water catchment areas is something that is acceptable,” he said. “What we’re seeing today is the minister placing a moratorium on any of those opportunities whilst ensuring that the research is done in respect of any impact that could occur on drinking water supplies.”
The moratorium will be in place until the NSW Chief Scientist Professor Mary O’Kane hands down her final report. Apex Energy had approval to drill in the catchment north of Wollongong but it was withdrawn by the planning assessment commission in July. Resources Minister Chris Hartcher says the Government supports the principle of restricting activities in the Special Areas until there is greater understanding of potential impacts of exploration and extraction of natural gas from coal seams. “The NSW Government recognises community concern that accessing and performing drilling in these pristine areas may have an effect on the drinking water supplies to Sydney and the Illawarra,” he said. “Designated Special Areas in the Catchment are recognised due to their topography and importance in filtering surface waters that flow in to the catchment’s dams. No activities should occur in these areas if they are detrimental to the quality and supply of water to the large population of Sydney and the Illawarra.”
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association says the industry was not consulted about the moratorium. Chief Operating Officer Paul Fennelly says it is a cynical, political exercise because there is no activity currently in the catchment special areas. “It’s an over-reaction, and it gets back to the fundamental issue about gas and gas supply in New South Wales and the broader debate,” he said. “We should be having an open discussion, rather than just imposing barriers and buffer zones around regions. This is really one of the greatest beat-ups I’ve seen this year. We’re not aware of any great plans by any gas companies to explore in the catchment area.” There are no existing approvals in place for drilling in the Special Areas, but the government says all previous drilling in these areas occurred under consents provided by the previous government. Irrigators want the moratorium extended state-wide. The NSW Irrigators Council CEO Andrew Gregson has welcomed the government’s move to recognise the potential impacts of coal seam gas activity on water, but questions why water in Sydney is protected but not regional parts of the state. … The government says this study will supplement the Chief Scientist’s current coal seam gas Review which includes an in-depth, State-wide analysis paper into potential concerns relating to exploration and extraction of natural gas from coal seams on water.