Sunday, 29 April 2012


On 26th April representatives of the Clarence Alliance Against Coal Seam Gas met with State MP for Clarence Chris Gulaptis to explain their concerns about coal seam gas (CSG) mining.  The representatives were John Edwards, Irene Daly and Lisa Hunter. Below is John Edwards' report on this meeting.

We started out with my reading a letter (see below) about our concerns about CSG mining.

In response to that Mr Gulaptis tried to reassure us that the Government was "considering" the CSG issue. He pointed also to State Upper House and Federal Inquiries, and that we should all wait for the outcomes of those deliberations. He assured us that the party room discussions on CSG were all about three things - protecting water, getting a better deal for landowners, and protecting our food production. We asked if the "better deal" gave landowners the option to say "no", which he said was a very good question. However, he avoided a direct reply to that saying that landowners need to be better compensated with stronger access agreements in favour of the landowner.

Later I asked if he could add climate change to the Governmen'ts list of priority concerns, but he clearly does not believe that climate change is happening, and stated that no tidal measurements had been taken over time to prove that sea levels were actually rising. I think evidence on this should be presented to him.

In response to the question of when the moratorium on fracking would be removed, he ventured the opinion that it would be extended, quoting party room 'feeling'.

Mr Gulaptis said he had viewed the DVDs given to him, and there were some things he disagreed with, but there wasn't time for him to enlarge on that other than the sea level rise matter.  However, he said he felt the North Coast would prove to be unviable for coal seam gas mining because of the small size of the average property. The miners would have to negotiate with too many landowners with potentially lengthy mediation and possibly court processes.

In terms of the issues raised in our statement, he agreed that most of the concerns were legitimate, but claimed he had seen no evidence that any aquifers had been damaged, but he would like to see that evidence if we can give it to him.

Irene spoke very strongly of her mistrust of the system, with which Mr. Gulaptis  disagreed, citing that in all the years as a surveyor in the development business he had not seen evidence of it. It would have been good to have had the time to discuss the issue of "vision impaired ecologists" that we exposed over the Shannon Creek dam EIS.

It was really good to have youth involved, in the person of Lisa, who made her concerns for the future clear.

Mr Gulaptis said he would appreciate us sending him any evidence relating to CSG. Again I asked if evidence of climate change would be helpful.

Ha also said he would be prepared to address a community meeting on the CSG issue, but he's booked out for about two months.

In conclusion I have to say that his responses were predictable, and not all that encouraging.

John Edwards read this letter to Chris Gulaptis at the beginning of their meeting.  The letter was signed by John (on behalf of the Clarence Environment Centre), Irene Daly (on behalf of  the Gumbaynggirr Nation) and Lisa Hunter (on behalf of Clarence Alliance Against CSG)

We are concerned that the mining companies seeking to exploit coal seam gas and other forms of unconventional gas in the Clarence-Moreton Basin cannot guarantee that the following impacts will not occur:
  • damage to groundwater resources, including the depletion of aquifers;
  • methane leaks from wells during or after use, leading to increased fire hazards;
  • emissions of volatile organic compounds that are detrimental to human health;
  • escape of salty or toxic waste water into waterways;
  • leakage of waste water or other pollutants into groundwater; and
  • increased seismic activity resulting from the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
We are also concerned that the mining of coal seam and other forms of unconventional gas:
  • will lead to the industrialisation of rural and  bushland environments; 
  •   will degrade and destroy Aboriginal cultural sites;
  • will cause massive fragmentation of native bushland and wildlife habitat, leading to detrimental impacts on threatened species and ecological communities;
  • will impose unacceptable impacts on landowners and their neighbours through increased levels of noise, dust and smells, all leading to social disruption, and physical and psychological health impacts; 
  • will create downward pressure on land prices, both in the short and long term;
  • will disrupt and divide communities;
  • will impact on roads and bridges, without paying any rates to councils to repair the damage to local roads;
  • will, through increased traffic volumes, have negative road safety implications;
  • will put significant pressure on public waste disposal facilities; and
  • will not provide a single cent in royalties to the people of NSW in the first 5 years of a well's production and not pay full royalties until after 10 years of a well's production.

The burning of gas contributes to global warming through the emission of carbon dioxide. Fugitive emissions of unburnt methane during exploration, extraction, processing and transportation via lengthy pipelines also significantly contribute to global warming, as methane is potent greenhouse gas, with a higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide (70 times greater when measured over a 20 year period). When these fugitive emissions are considered, burning unconventional gas for electricity is worse then burning coal.
The International Energy Agency has identified that, by continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels, the world is currently on track to be 6 degrees warmer by 2100 (IEA Outlook 2012), a catastrophic level of climate change. And yet the Australian and NSW Governments continue to support the expansion of the gas and coal industries, and fail to plan for a transition to a low carbon economy powered by renewable and zero emission sources of energy.
Given all of the above, we strongly believe that the mining of coal seam gas and other forms of unconventional gas cannot be justified under any circumstances and must be stopped.
We urge you to take this message to your colleagues in the NSW Government.

Friday, 27 April 2012


A committee of the Upper House of the NSW Parliament, the Legislative Council, will be inquiring into some of the states' national parks.  

The Inquiry has been called by the Chair of the General Purpose Standing Committee No. 5, Robert Brown (Shooters and Fishers Party) and three National Party members. 

This Inquiry into Public Land Management in New South Wales intends to examine the "process of conversion of Crown Lands, State Forests and agricultural land into National Park estate or other types of conservation areas". It is aimed particularly at the River Red Gum forests of the Southern Riverina and parks created from native hardwood forests in northern NSW.

There is widespread concern that this is the beginning of a further push by the Shooters and Fishers to open up national parks to hunters. Robert Brown has been campaigning for this for years.

Another possible motive for targeting national parks relates to NSW State Forests long-term over-commitment of timber resources in this state.  According to the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) spokesperson Dailan Pugh, "The National Party was well aware of the supply crisis before the election and some members expressed their preference for opening up national parks for logging, though the Coalition denied they had any intent to do so."

Following concerns expressed by NEFA, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the Wilderness Society, the NSW Minister for the Environment, Robyn Parker, issued a media release denying there would be any reversal of the Red Gum forests legislation or that hunting would be allowed in national parks.  The media release dealt in some detail with what the government was doing with the River Red Gum parks but did not allay concern about whether the government had any plans for logging in national parks.

NEFA is calling on people to contact their local State Government member to ask them for personal commitments that they will not support either the revoking of national parks or opening them up for logging and shooting. Concerned people could also contact the Premier, Barry O'Farrell. 

Politician Contact Details:

Chris Gulaptis M.P., Member for Clarence
11 Prince Street, Grafton, NSW  2460
Phone: (02) 6643 1244

Andrew Fraser, M.P., Member for Coffs Harbour
1/9 Park Avenue, Coffs Harbour, NSW 2450
Phone: (02) 66526500

Thomas George M.P., Member for Lismore
PO Box 52, Lismore, NSW 2480
Phone: (02) 66213624

Hon. Barry O'Farrell
Premier of NSW
Parliament House
Macquarie St Sydney NSW 2000

Friday, 13 April 2012


Failure by governments to read public opinion is legendary, and time and again we observe government inaction leading to public reaction. Whether it be to occupy Wall Street; the 'Arab Spring', or the Australian Lock the Gate movement against coal seam gas mining, people increasingly see a need to take matters into their own hands.

When it comes to environmental protection, governments invariably abrogate their responsibilities in favour of the perception of a need for growth. With development and mining lobbies able to spend billions on advertising campaigns, the opposing environment movement, made up predominantly of cash-strapped volunteer groups, finds it almost impossible to be heard.

With no bottomless pit of money to call upon, environmentalists have had to become more inventive, and are now focusing on the 'green' image of peripheral companies. For example, timber giant Gunns' failure, thus far, to fulfill its ambitious pulp mill plan for Tasmania's Tamar Valley is, in no small part, the result of a successful campaign aimed at large financial institutions. The threat to tarnish their environmental image is a powerful tool.

Similarly, Greenpeace has identified the ANZ Bank as the biggest financier of Australia's coal industry, arguably one of the world's largest contributors to climate change. Under pressure, the ANZ has recently rewritten its energy financing policy. However, Greenpeace believes the latest document is deliberately detail-free to allow business as usual, and has vowed to maintain the pressure.

Recent campaigns aimed at Australia's largest furniture retailer, Harvey Norman, over its use of Australian native timber, has successfully focused consumer attention on the environmental costs of native forest logging, This campaign is likely to be extended to other industry players, particularly in relation to the destruction of core koala habitat to feed the voracious needs of the wood-chip industry.

However, despite the old protest song saying, “Times they are changing”, the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same, and 40 years on the struggle to save our iconic natural areas continues.

- John Edwards

Friday, 6 April 2012


The recently-formed Clarence Alliance Against Coal Seam Gas hosted an information meeting in South Grafton on Friday 30th March. 

Drawing on his experience in Queensland, Drew Hutton, one of the founders and current president of the "Lock the Gate" movement emphasised the enormous threat that the Clarence Valley was facing as the coal seam gas miners moved into this area.  Hutton said that because of the attitude of governments, the CSG miners believed they were going to get a free ride.  However, the growing community opposition should be showing them it was not going to be as easy as they thought.

Drew Hutton addressing the meeting.        Photo: L Blain

The second speaker, Janet Cavanaugh, spoke about some of the major issues in CSG mining that are of community concern. These included:
  • ·         Water issues – disposal of "produced" water pumped from wells; the risk to aquifers either through contamination by chemicals pumped into wells or through depletion.
  • ·         Land use impacts – changes to rural landscapes as a result of mining infrastructure (e.g. roads, pipelines, holding ponds); clearing of vegetation and erosion impacts; noise from pumps, truck movements etc.
  • ·         Carbon emissions – industry claims that CSG is more carbon-friendly than coal do not take into consideration the whole of life impact of this energy source.
  • ·         Weak regulation in NSW – little opportunity for community input on mining proposals; very low returns to the state (which in reality is the people of the state) as there are no royalties for the first five years of a well's production and a gradual increase over the next five years.
  • ·         What is happening to the gas – it is mostly for export

The third speaker was Brian Monk, a Queensland farmer from the Tara area near Chinchilla.  Monk, who refers to himself as a CSG refugee, spoke about his experience of CSG in his area.   One of his major concerns was the poisoning of groundwater with mining chemicals.  This poisoning resulted in his grandchildren getting welts on their skin when they were bathing. Another issue he highlighted was the failure of regulators in Queensland to implement effectively the regulations controlling the CSG industry. 

One of the audience commented that Monk's experience sounded like a tale from a third world country rather than something that could happen in Australia.

Sue  Higginson, Senior Solicitor from the Environmental Defenders Office in Lismore, spoke about property rights and other legal issues relating to mining exploration and production.

Janet Cavanaugh gave a second presentation about the situation in the Clarence Valley.  This will be the subject of another post in the near future.