Federal Government steps in to speed up coal seam gas drilling in New South Wales (ABC) - ( 4U5TR4L14 )
The Federal Government says it is intervening to fast-track coal seam gas (CSG) projects in New South Wales in response to the state’s “gas crisis”.
Speaking at an “energy security summit” of gas industry stakeholders in Sydney today, Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said thousands of jobs could be lost and gas prices could spike in the state if moves were not taken to unlock CSG reserves.
He said he wanted to see more CSG rigs in place “by Christmas” and said he had spoken to Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell about ways to overcome resistance to CSG drilling from farmers and other landowners.
And he also flagged the possibility of a federal move to harmonise CSG laws across all states and territories, including a “one-stop shop” arrangement for CSG approvals – a suggestion which has drawn the ire of the Greens.
“We’ve got to sort this out quickly,” Mr Macfarlane said.
“We’ve got to get the drill rigs going, where the farmers want them going, where the geology’s safe, where the water’s safe, where the environment’s safe. We’ve got to get them going by Christmas if we can.”
Jobs at stake if more gas not extracted soon, Macfarlane says
Mr Macfarlane said he was acting because “average mums and dads [would] lose their jobs” when the state’s existing gas reserves began to get “very short”, and drilling “very expensive”, by 2016.
He said the Federal Government would be forming a committee of industry stakeholders – including farmers, gas producers and consumers – to energise the state’s CSG sector.
But outside today’s summit a small group of protesters said they were angry that the views of many farmers were not being represented inside.
“Unreal. It’s supposed to be a stakeholders meeting for gas and people from the agriculture and the bush that this sort of industry is going to impact on and we’re not invited here,” the protest’s leader, New England farmer David Quince, said.
“It’s just unbelievable, unbelievable.”
Opponents of CSG drilling say the process can contaminate groundwater supplies, and in July the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission .
NSW says it’s happy to work with Commonwealth, but rules are rules
State Resources Minister Chris Hartcher said New South Wales had “huge amounts of gas”.
“The issue is getting it out of the ground and the issue is making sure it is affordable,” he said.
Mr Macfarlane said the Federal Government was “not stepping in over anyone” and said there was “cooperation between all people involved in the gas industry.”
Mr Hartcher said he was happy to work with the Commonwealth to encourage more CSG investment, but said the state would not weaken its buffer zone rules which ban CSG exploration within two kilometres of residential zones and horse-breeding and wine-making areas.
“We will not be altering in this state our protective framework, that we regard as non-negotiable,” Mr Hartcher said. “The regulatory framework is here. The regulatory framework stays.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he wanted New South Wales to look to the example of Queensland’s LNP government in overcoming opposition to drilling.
“There is little doubt that we have done better in Queensland,” he said.
“The [Campbell] Newman Government seems to have been very good at ensuring that landholders are reasonably content with the arrangements that have been entered into for gas extraction on their property.
“The important thing is to get the balance right and I am confident that that’s exactly why the O’Farrell Government is having this conference in Sydney today.”
Greens say land will be ‘steamrolled’ by big gas companies
The Greens say any move to standardise CSG laws nationwide will weaken environmental protections.
“I’m not surprised [Ian] Macfarlane is championing Queensland’s regime,” Greens mining spokeswoman Larissa Waters said.
“Under those laws we’ve seen the three big coal and gas companies steamroll over our best food-producing land and trash our Great Barrier Reef with massive ports in Gladstone Harbour.
“So, sadly, I think Queensland is the example that you don’t want to follow.”