Whiporie is about 50 km north of Grafton on the Summerland Way.
Red Sky has successfully applied to move to the second stage of its Talma coal seam gas project to operate a pilot production well at Whiporie for a period of no more than 18 months. This has happened despite the State Government claiming no new production licences would be granted until investigations into coal seam gas are complete. But this is only a pilot production well – some more hair-splitting!
That approval did not happen without some major changes to Red Sky's original Review of Environmental Factors (REF). However, not surprisingly the REF still claims the single well will have minimal impact.
There are inferences throughout the document that the drilling at the Talma site is aimed at determining the gas levels in Kangaroo Creek sandstone, and not for the purpose of developing a gas field there. These include statements like:
"Due to the limited duration of the activities, no cumulative environmental impact is anticipated",
"The site is expected to be restored to its prior condition within a short time of abandonment."
Likewise under the heading "Rehabilitation Works", we are assured that the program will last a maximum 18 months and that "At the conclusion of the program, complete environmental restoration of the site will be undertaken."
However, the penultimate sentence of the REF states " A future gas project may, if commercial, have some favourable long-term impacts on the economy of the local community (no mention of future environmental impacts) and (then the big lie) provide energy alternatives that reduce greenhouse impacts from those currently available. "
As a result of that statement, I believe the proponent has a serious credibility problem.
Of course we believe the entire process is seriously flawed. It is widely acknowledged that once an exploration licence is granted, the mining company has an expectation, if not an outright legal right, that it will be allowed to mine any viable fields it finds. With coal seam gas, this means a fully blown gas field.
While the Talma site is on a small area of cleared land, it is surrounded by a large tract of native forest. So a gas field around the site would see massive destruction and fragmentation of wildlife habitat.
Therefore, if the discovery of a viable resource leads to a licence to mine that resource, we believe the full impacts of that entire extraction process should be assessed up front.
Adapted from a report by J Edwards in the Clarence Environment Centre's Winter 2012 Newsletter.