Thursday 29 March 2012

NSW Government Fails on Coal Seam Gas Protection

On 5th March the NSW Government released its Strategic Regional Land Use Plans for the Hunter and New England regions.  On the government website explaining these plans we are told that the draft plans and policies "deliver on its (the Government's) Strategic Regional Land Use Policy to protect high-quality agricultural land and its water sources from inappropriate mining and coal seam gas projects".

Included in the package were a Draft Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas (CSG) Exploration and a Draft Aquifer Interference Policy.

While the government probably expected environmentalists to be critical of these documents, it appears to be surprised that farmers were unimpressed.  Following the Coalition parties' election promises early last year, the agricultural community expected effective safeguards to protect them from the impacts of CSG exploration and mining.

According to the NSW Farmers Federation some of the failings of these plans are:
·         There are no areas off-limits to CSG mining - and thus no protection for prime agricultural land.
·         Potentially damaging exploration will continue unaffected.
·         There is no firm protection for water resources – one of the major concerns of critics of CSG mining.

The Plans and associated documents are on exhibition until 3rd May  on the Strategic Regional Landuse Policy Delivery website

It is likely there will be many submissions critical of the plans.   But will this really matter?  How much notice will the government actually take of community concern?  

To date the O'Farrell Government and the ALP (when it was in government) have paid only lipservice to community worries about this intrusive and damaging form of mining.  Governments and the politicians who run them are obsessed by short-term economic gain and ignore the long-term economic costs that result from environmental degradation.

Despite all the community activity, our politicians still do not recognise the major long-term threats posed by this industry to rural and urban communities and the environment in general.  They fail to see that to an increasing number of people these threats are unacceptable. 

So, while the government is responding inadequately to community fears, the groundswell of opposition to CSG continues to grow.
          L Blain

This article was published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Daily Examiner  on 12 March 2012

Saturday 24 March 2012


Earth Hour is at 8.30 p.m. on Saturday 31st March.  As in the last five years, people around the world are being encouraged to switch off their lights for one hour.  This is a small symbolic act with a huge environmental message that unites millions of people around the planet.

It began in Sydney in 2007 with thousands of people switching off their lights for one hour indicating their concern about climate change. Earth Hour has since grown to encompass 135 countries, involving hundreds of millions of people in more than 5,215 cities across the globe.

Some of the ever-growing list of global icons that go dark for Earth Hour each year are the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Beijing's Forbidden City and the Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza.
Earth Hour is becoming a spectacular display of global unity and an indication of what we can achieve if we all take responsibility for looking after our planet.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says," Earth Hour is the moment in which we say 'yes', Planet Earth is a home we share with a myriad of precious species.  Earth Hour is a universal message of hope and action, a moment driven by the collective will of the world, for the world."

Many of our fellow creatures are going to be adversely affected by climate change and by our actions in other areas.  Earth Hour is a powerful reminder that we humans are the ones who should be doing everything in our power to prevent loss of their habitat and reduction of their general well-being.

As in previous years, we are being encouraged to "go beyond the hour" in the days, weeks, months and years which lie ahead, and, motivated by our concerns as individuals and groups, do what we can for the welfare of life on earth.

As we turn the lights out, let us consider how we can breathe life into our role as Earth Citizens, and into this statement from the Earth Charter – "We must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying  ourselves with the whole Earth Community as well as our local community."
    - S.  Mussared

Tuesday 20 March 2012


A new educational resource providing details of over 300 significant flora species that can be found growing in the Clarence Valley is now available at the Environment Centre (CEC) in Skinner Street, South Grafton at little more than the cost of production.

An initiative by the Clarence Environment Centre, “Significant Flora of the Clarence Valley” was compiled and produced entirely by volunteers, with printing and packaging costs partially funded by a Clarence Valley Council community grant.

The North Coast botanical region of New South Wales is internationally recognised as one of the world's biodiversity hot-spots. The Clarence Valley is situated at the centre of that region, an area otherwise known as the “McPherson – Macleay Overlap”, which supports an amazing mix of flora from both temperate and subtropical Australia. The variety of geographical and geological features,which range from coastal heath and wetlands to the rainforest covered mountains of the Great Dividing Range, all contribute to this amazing diversity.

Calochilus paludosus

In determining whether a species' occurrence is significant, we have included those that are listed as threatened, and some that are protected under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act, along with those considered rare, regionally uncommon, endemic species, and species that reach the southern or northern limit of their distribution within the Clarence Valley.

A word of warning though - not all significant species are listed. Since compiling this list, another half dozen or more rare or newly described species have been identified, a process that will be ongoing, and hopefully be covered in future productions.

The DVD provides a PDF fact sheet for each species with a photograph or image, and provides scientific and common names, family name, protected status, a brief description, localities and range of occurrence, and threats faced. Many of the photographs were donated by Centre members, while the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust kindly allowed the reproduction of their images for the remainder.

Dodonaea hirsuta mature fruit

The CEC's Committee extends its appreciation to all those who assisted in producing this DVD, and sincerely hopes the general public will find this a useful guide and research tool.

The email contact for the Clarence Environment Centre is

- J Edwards

Wednesday 14 March 2012


New Local Anti-Coal Seam Gas Group:

A new Clarence Valley group opposed to coal seam gas (CSG) mining was formed  recently - Clarence Valley Alliance against Coal Seam Gas. The group has already held public information nights in the villages of Whiporie and Copmanhurst.  

On 30th March (from 6-9 p.m.) it is holding a further information night at the South Grafton Ex-Servicemen's Club in Wharf Street, South Grafton. Speakers include Drew Hutton (National Convenor of Lock the Gate), Sue Higginson (senior solicitor from the Northern Rivers Environmental Defenders Office), Brian Monk (a CSG refugee from the Darling Downs), Peter Ralph (an author who will be launching his book No Fracking Way that day) and local resident Janet Cavanaugh.

Clarence Valley Council Resolution:

At its February meeting Clarence Valley Council passed a resolution stating that it did not support or endorse coal seam gas activities within the Clarence Valley.

The resolution stated that Council would continue with this policy until a number of measures were undertaken.  These included action by the State Government "to responsibly guide and regulate the Coal Seam Gas industry in relation to their activities" and the establishment of scientific proof that the impacts of the industry "will not result in any significant and detrimental environment outcomes
particularly in relation to aquifer water quality".

The resolution, which passed unanimously, was moved by Mayor Richie Williamson.

This was a follow-up to a 2011 resolution sponsored by Councillor Margaret McKenna which called on the State Government to place a moratorium on coal seam gas exploration and extraction until there were appropriate safeguards in place.

Non-Violent Direct Action Training Day in Grafton:

The Clarence Alliance Against CSG has organised a non-violent direct action training day which aims to teach people how to peacefully blockade. It will be held on Sunday 25 March from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Grafton Community Centre in Duke St, Grafton. Those attending are asked to bring lunch and to donate a gold coin to assist with the hire of the venue.

Tuesday 6 March 2012


The draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan was released for public comment late last year by the government instrumentality the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).  This followed the abortive draft , released a year earlier, which was withdrawn by the federal government following intensive lobbying by the irrigation industry.

The irrigation industry is once again noisily opposing the new draft, claiming that it proposes too much water for the environment.  This is despite the environmental allocation under the new draft being reduced to 2,700 gigalitres. 

The current Draft Plan is woefully inadequate.  Given the billions of dollars to be spent with the aim of improving the health of this vital river system, the Australian community will not be getting the result it is paying for if the current draft is accepted by the parliament later this year. 

What are the major problems with the Draft?

Firstly, the water to be allocated to the river is inadequate.  Scientific studies have indicated that between 4,000 and 7,600 gigalitres are required for there to be any hope of improving the health of the river.

Secondly, the draft provides for a 2,600 gigalitre increase in groundwater extraction.  This is folly considering the lack of knowledge about which underground aquifers are connected to rivers and wetlands within the Basin.  This extraction could undermine any gains made through reducing surface extraction.

Thirdly, the draft does not consider the likely impacts of climate change. Predictions indicate the available water in the system could be reduced by up to 37% by 2030.  With no planning for this, it is inevitable that the environment will once again miss out – with river health further compromised.

Irrigators opposed to returning reasonable flows to the river system are ignoring the fact that, in the long term, their industries rely on a healthy river system.  And irrigators are not the only stakeholders in this matter.  Tourist operators, floodplain graziers and the entire Australian community have an interest in a healthy Murray Darling.  And so of course do the voiceless – the species of flora and fauna which depend on the system for their survival.

Comments on the Plan are due by 16th April 2012.  For further information on submissions and the MDBA planning process see the Murray-Darling Basin Authority website.
 - L Blain

This post in a slightly shorter form was originally published in "Voices for the Earth"  on the Environment Page in The Daily Examiner on 2oth February 2012.