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Aussies Against Fracking
GENERAL PURPOSE STANDING
COMMITTEE No. 5 27 MONDAY 31 OCTOBER 2011
GRAHAM HEALY, Chairperson,
Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud Preservation Alliance, affirmed and
GARRY SMITH, Project officer, Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud Preservation
Alliance, sworn and examined:
CHAIR: Welcome to this hearing. Would either or both of you like to make an
Mr HEALY: Yes. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee today. The
Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud Preservation Alliance [BGSPA] was established in 2006 in
response to the sudden and
dramatic expansion of mining exploration and development within the
Gloucester-Stroud Valley, including the
major expansion of coal exploration and mining and the commencement of coal seam
gas exploration over an
extensive area of the valley.
The alliance is seeking to ensure that the general
rural character of the valley is
preserved by opposing developments that are injurious to this character and
environment. We are local town
residents and rural landholders who are either impacted by current or proposed
mining or who are generally
concerned about the impact of all this proposed mining on the natural resources
and amenity of the valley.
The alliance has made a
substantive submission to this inquiry, which responds
fully to the terms of
reference and includes a list of essential recommendations that we consider to
be critical to undertaking the
necessary review of all aspects of this industry.
Our submission to this inquiry
comes fairly hot on the heels of
another major submission prepared in response to the environmental assessment
released by AGL in support of
its proposal to develop a 330-well coal seam gas field in the Gloucester-Stroud
assessment was a massive document, comprising five large volumes and thousands
of pages. To respond to the
environmental assessment required an understanding of complex geological,
technical, health and environmental issues.
We were fortunate in having a body
of expertise in our community
and this was supplemented by the work of independent experts who provided advice
I mention this simply to make the point that our submission to this inquiry is a
substantive work based
on several years of investigation, analysis and expert opinion. It is not my
intention to restate the detail of the
matters raised in our submission to this inquiry other than to highlight some
We consider that the
pollution risk to surface and ground water systems created by coal seam gas
extraction presents the greatest
environmental danger yet imposed on the Australian landscape of any mining or
industrial process so far
undertaken in this country.
We are particularly concerned at the inadequate hydrogeological assessment
undertaken by AGL for its Gloucester gas development given the complex geology
of the Gloucester-Stroud
The valley is particularly vulnerable to environmental damage by gas
extraction because of the valley's
unusual geological formation that involved intense lateral folding, volcanic
action and complex erosion
processes. These resulted in a complex pattern of geological faults and shears
that create exceptional risks of gas
migration and watertable damage.
For the information of the Committee, Mr Smith has brought along a definitive
reference map which
clearly reveals the complex geology. We cannot table that but it is available
for inspection by members of the
Committee and we invite questions on this particular aspect.
As was mentioned
this morning, Gloucester-Stroud
Valley has already experienced incidents of methane gas migration during
exploration and as a consequence of
this we believe the process of fracturing, or fracking, should be banned.
cumulative impact of multiple
mining developments on environmental qualities is a neglected area of
environmental assessment. This is
particularly relevant in the Gloucester-Stroud Valley where coalmining and coal
seam gas extraction are not
allowed. We are also concerned that cultural heritage and tourism aspects have
not been adequately dealt with.
Our colleagues from
Tourism Advancing Gloucester will be giving evidence later
today and we welcome further
questions in this area. I have deliberately not mentioned the health impacts of
coal seam gas as our management
committee member Dr Steve Robinson will be dealing with this issue when he
appears before the Committee
I have some general comments about coal seam gas. In approving AGL's Gloucester
gas project in
February this year the Planning and Assessment Commission noted that the coal
seam gas industry is relatively
new in Australia.
The experience of this industry has not been a happy one. In
communities up and down the
eastern seaboard voices have been raised in alarm. More than 10,000 people
attended anti coal seam gas rallies
in New South Wales and Queensland earlier this month. I cannot recall an issue
that has so galvanised such a
broad cross-section of Australian society since the anti-Vietnam War marches.
This industry does not have a
social licence to operate. There is a single unifying thread linking the
concerns of all these communities —
Continuity and quality of water supply is the greatest environmental
challenge facing Australia and in
fact the world today. It is our most precious resource—more precious than coal,
gold, gas or any other mineral
that can be extracted and we must bestow upon it the highest level of
In December 2010 the
National Water Commission warned about risks to sustainable water management
from inadequate regulation of
the coal seam gas industry, and specifically said the potential impacts of coal
seam gas developments,
particularly the cumulative effects of multiple projects, were not well
understood and that the coal seam gas
industry "risks having significant, long term and adverse impacts on adjacent
surface and groundwater systems".
The National Water Commission is not alone. It seems there is a new warning from
an independent expert
issued on a weekly basis.
There is so much publicity about the coal seam gas industry, too much to keep
abreast of, and none of it
positive. I cannot recall one independent authority speaking in support of this
industry. Even the coal seam gas
industry itself has considered gas extraction will inevitably contaminate
In August, Mr Ross Dunne,
spokesman for the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association,
was reported in the Sydney
Morning Herald as saying, "Drilling will, to varying degrees, impact on
The extent of the
impact and whether the impact will be managed is the question." It beggars
belief that warnings about the need
for a precautionary approach to this industry have been ignored in a
short-sighted race to turn Australia into a
quarry for the world's developing economies.
In conclusion, the alliance urges the Committee to make two recommendations. I
know these have been
covered in questions and evidence this morning.
Firstly, that a moratorium be
imposed on all coal seam gas
exploration and development until an independent scientific investigation
advises the industry is able to operate
in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
Secondly, that the
Government adopt a strategic land
use policy which would see defined areas quarantined from extractive mining
because alternative land use is
considered to be more sustainable, more productive and more socially and
would provide certainty for both landholders and mining companies and obviate
the conflicts and stresses
caused by the present approach whereby the entire State is potentially going to
CHAIR: Thank you. Mr Smith, would you like to make any comments?
Mr SMITH: I have no prepared comments. I will add to the questions and issues
raised. There are two
matters I would like to speak to.
The first is geology, and I know we are
labouring the geology but it must be
done because the full risk of the Gloucester geology is not understood at all.
The second issue I want to address
somewhere in the questioning procedure is the valley's scenic heritage
significance. This is not just a shallow
superficial thing. It underpins its economic base, its tourism industry and its
lifestyle settlement. I would like to
speak to those two matters.
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY: In your submission recommendation 3 links with a point
on page 11 about the question of legislation and regulation for this industry.
Can you elaborate further on that
part of your submission? It is obviously an important aspect. What is your
thinking about what needs to be done
in looking at the legislative and regulatory framework for this industry?
Mr SMITH: There are two main areas. The first is the
Petroleum (Onshore) Act
empowers exploration and the granting of licences. As mentioned earlier, the
exploration process is basically a
production process in terms of potential pollution and damage and nowhere are
those issues addressed in the
Issues of air pollution, possible water pollution, flaring, and use of
chemicals are not addressed in the Act,
so the Act itself is not sufficiently regulated. Part 3A of the Environmental
Planning and Assessment Act has
been repealed but the new provisions under part 4 appear to duplicate the part
3A provision in relation to mining
so there is no improvement.
Two big areas need to be addressed. The first is the
huge power given to the
Minister. The Minister's position has basically become a law unto itself. The
second issue is the inadequate
environmental assessment that has been enabled by part 3A provisions, and now
part 4, whereby major
environmental statutes are either restricted or turned off. I speak of the Water
Management Act, the Heritage
Act, and the National Parks and Wildlife Act.
When I did a tally there were
something like 11 Acts and
environmental statutes that are important to the whole environmental process
that are either turned off totally or
severely restricted. They are the two main areas that have to be addressed. I
believe the legal issues need an
inquiry in their own right; the issue is that big.
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY: What sort of inquiry did you have in mind—like this type
or something else?
Mr SMITH: In terms of a legal inquiry?
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY: In terms of trying to grasp what would be the key
legislation and regulation in this area.
Mr SMITH: Just off the cuff, I am envisaging an inquiry that would be of equal
standing to this one.
The legal investigations are a major issue of this inquiry but I believe they
are so big they warrant an inquiry in
their own right to concentrate totally on the legal aspects because they are so
broad. We look at the Petroleum
(Onshore) Act and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and then we have
to look at the interrelationship
with all the other environmental statutes, property acquisition and the whole
lot. It is a huge
The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: Would one or both of you expand on your submission
regarding the geology of the Gloucester-Stroud Valley? An important part needs
further investigation. On page
5 it says:
The assessment of the valley's coal resources in the above study considers that
coal cannot be mined safely and economically in
the northern end of the valley and yet the AGL project has been approved to
extract gas in the same area, and with critical issues
including impact on water left unassessed.
Can you expand on that for the benefit of the Committee?
Mr SMITH: It is a very difficult area because we get conflicting opinions. There
are early studies—
and if I had had notice of the question I could have tabled those studies—going
back to the Loughlin report in
about 1954 and various subsequent reports that coal could not be economically
and safely mined in the northern
part of the valley.
It would appear that by mining they meant traditional
old-style pit mining. It could not be
safely mined because of the complex fractures and faults and the breaks in the
coal seams and the slanting
nature of the coal seams. It could not be economically mined, although someone
might say coal is worth a lotmore now so some of that problem could be overcome, and certainly that would be
However, the issue
with the sloping coal seams, the fractures and the breaks still exists. They are
still there; that has not changed.
The geological advice we received privately was that long wall mining would
similarly be difficult and
dangerous because of those same faults. We are concerned that gas mining is
going ahead on that same
The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: So your suggestion in the submission is that the
complexgeology is not like a layer cake with coal and sandstone in set strata. Mr
Healy, I think you said there was a
suggestion that methane gas migration had already been observed. Can you expand
Mr HEALY: That was mentioned by Councillor Rosenbaum this morning, but Mr Smith
placed than I am to elaborate on that.
Mr SMITH: I could look at the notes to get the exact title of the report but
incident was September
2004, the report was written in December 2004. It was by C. M. Atkinson. Its
title I recall as being "Coal Bed
Methane Hazards in New South Wales". It was, for quite a time, on line and
possibly still is and could be
googled. But there was a methane eruption at Stratford due to striking an old
exploration hole and considerable
methane escaped and that was considered at that time to be potentially dangerous
at a very high level. It was
caught in time and plugged.
CHAIR: Mr Smith, would you be able to take a question on notice and provide the
Committee with the
references for the earlier 1950s report that you quoted? Would you be able to
find that for us?
Mr SMITH: I could go through them and find them. I recall one was by Lachman.
There were some
CHAIR: Anything you can provide us with would be helpful.
Mr SMITH: There is also a brief view in the definitive geology of the area
compiled, I think, under the
editorship of Professor Brian Engel and I would also cite that. I can get a list
to the Committee later.
CHAIR: Thank you. That would be helpful.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Mr Healy, I think you mentioned in your report and in
your address that
you were disappointed in the—I think the word you used was "thoroughness"—of the
done by AGL. Surely any exploration organisation such as that must be extremely
thorough in their research
process before they would commence any drilling activities or anything. Why do
you say they have been less
than thorough in their geological assessment?
Mr HEALY: Because the simple fact is that there is no hydrogeological study
undertaken prior to
submitting the environmental assessment. That is one reason they have been given
conditional approval for the
concept plan and instructed to go away and do these studies that they did not do
prior to submitting the
environmental assessment. We had a public question and answer session which we
invited AGL to attend to
answer questions raised by the community. That was one of the points considered
by AGL—that it was an
oversight—and they received criticism for not having done that previously.
Perhaps Mr Smith can elaborate on
Mr SMITH: That broadly covers it. The thing that is happening now is that AGL
are doing ongoing
seismic testing, for the simple reason that they do not understand the geology.
The environmental assessment
they presented to the director general, to the Minister and to the Planning
Assessment Commission did not fully
describe its characteristics. They did not have a good understanding of the
geology. We have a professional
report by Professor Alex Grady stating that they have a poor understanding of
the hydrogeology. And they are
still doing testing now, testing that should have been done before the
development application was considered.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: What sort of testing are they doing?
Mr SMITH: Seismic 2D and 3D testing. I am not a geologist familiar with the
exact procedure and I
cannot enlarge upon that but they are again looking to ascertain where the
fractures, faults and shears are.
Mr Healy referred to a map earlier and I would table that map, if it helps to
understand the complex geology.
This is a definitive mineral resources geology map of the Gloucester Valley and
when you look at it, you can see
the mass of faults and shears indicated by lines. We have geological advice from
a member within our group
and from outside the group that these represent only the basic geological
structures that are so far known and
that in fact the shears and faults are much more severe. Would you like to me to
show you that?
CHAIR: Mr Smith, if you are prepared to table the map we can give you an
undertaking that the map
will be a taken back to Sydney, copied and returned to you.
Mr SMITH: If the members of the Committee felt that it was of use to them, they
could retain the map
as long as they like. It is a field working copy, it is a little battered and it
has been taped back together but the
benefit of it is, we have added to the top part of it some of the Gloucester
roads and landmarks so that you can
see exactly where it happens.
CHAIR: It would be helpful if you would table that.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Gentlemen, in your submission you refer to shale gas and
coal seam gas
and you state that it does not matter whether it is coal seam gas or shale gas,
the same problems apply. Is that
where you are coming from in that comment in your submission?
Mr SMITH: It was only intended as an answer to some methane gas comments. They
"That applies to shale gas and it does not apply to methane gas". The broad
principles apply to both. I am not a
geologist so I cannot get to the bottom of it but there is much overseas comment
that methane gas extraction
may, in fact, be riskier but I cannot put any evidence to the Committee as to
whether it is or is not. I am only
objecting to the comment by coal seam methane gas companies that somehow their
process is not risky.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: As I understand it, they are both methane but one comes
out of shale and
the other from the coal seam.
Mr SMITH: Yes, it is still the same gas. Our advice is it still has the same
pollution problems. But I
think the comments by the gas companies were directed at the film Gasland and
they were saying, "That is shale
gas; it is not the same". But much of it is common to both industries.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: You have a statement in your submission—one common to a
submissions up and down the coast and out west—that you fear an impact on
property values. Is there any
evidence of that or is that just what you foresee happening?
Mr HEALY: Thank you for that question. I am having personal experience of that.
It is a situation that
applies to coal mining but it applies equally to coal seam gas.
We have a
situation with a mine operated by
Gloucester Coal and there is an extensive exploration licence up the valley
which is now overlaid by this
petroleum exploration licence.
In 2006 they applied for an extension of that,
for a new exploration licence to
adjoin that. Immediately that happened—and this is the point Councillor
Rosenbaum was making this morning
about the sophistry in saying that exploration is somehow benign and separate to
mining, which is a load of
rubbish—as soon as that exploration licence is granted, not only does the value
of those properties fall, but the
capital becomes frozen because people cannot sell them.
Nobody wants to live
next to a coalmine or in the
middle of a coal seam gas field. I can give you an example of neighbours of mine
who had to move away
because their business went bad and they had to find alternative employment and
they cannot sell their property.
They are in a desperate financial situation. Their property is outside the
footprint that the mining company
would be interested in and they are stuck. That is not an isolated incident. And
that is one aspect of all this
mining that has really hit my hot button because nobody ever talks about it;
nobody ever thinks about it. It
destroys people's lives.
The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: I would like one or both of you to expand on the
by Dr Steve Robinson. It is included in your own submission. It is the
submission on the potential for
cumulative health impacts in the Gloucester Valley. I have visited the vale of
Gloucester and it is not a wide
valley. You have already got significant coalmines and they are set to expand.
Would you detail what you
believe the potential health impacts could be in that valley if coal seam gas
mining goes ahead?
Mr SMITH: I do not think that I can address that as well as Dr Robinson can but
we have been
concerned for some time that emissions, whether they be from flaring or from
diesel machinery being used in
the process, that the total emissions are not being considered in conjunction
with the coal dust emissions from
the coal industry. I live at the northern end of the valley and I have noticed
over the last two years a gradual
increasing greyness in the morning fogs. We are prone to fogs because of air
inversion from the Barrington Tops
area. This should have been considered in the environmental assessment because
we have particular air
characteristics peculiar to the Gloucester Valley. I am noticing increasing grey
in the fog. I cannot give scientific
evidence of that but the cumulative impact of gas and coal desperately needs to
be properly assessed.
Mr HEALY: We deliberately chose not to talk about health matters because Dr
Robinson is appearing
before the Committee this afternoon and he is our resident expert on health
Mr SMITH: May I table some information?
CHAIR: Please proceed.
Mr SMITH: I mentioned earlier that the Stroud-Gloucester Valley now has tourism
as its major
industry. The valley is particularly attractive scenically. It was classified by
the National Trust in 1975. A
submission was put to the Registrar of the National Estate in 1976 to have the
valley assessed for national
heritage significance. That did not proceed.
The alliance undertook a heritage
study in 2009 and the National
Trust revised their study in 2011. That is in substantial agreement with the
nomination has been made to the Department of Sustainability, Environment,
Water, Population and
Communities to assess the Stroud-Gloucester Valley for having national heritage
significance in the 2011 and
2012 program. The last advice was that that is in process but we do not have
anything further to report.
have some documents: The National Trust listing, a copy of the application for
national heritage significance
and a copy of our document, The Vale of Gloucester. I would like to present
those to the Committee in the hope
they may be of some further use.
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY: With respect to recommendation No. 4 about greater
consultation, do you have any thoughts about how that might be done in practice,
compared to the position at the
Mr SMITH: I am sorry, I missed the question.
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY: It is a question about your recommendation about greater
participation. What did you have in mind in that regard?
Mr SMITH: It is one of the areas I have probably given less thought to. We were
concerned that, when
the Planning Assessment Commission visited the Gloucester Valley, they did not
have any community
consultation at all and we felt that that was a very bad thing and a very
serious omission. So I think I am looking
for increased consultation at the predevelopment stage. I would think it needs
community meetings. I cannot
enlarge beyond that at this stage, there is too much to consider.
Mr HEALY: It was canvassed a little in this morning's discussion about the
community consultative committees and the effectiveness of involving the
community in the project. I must say,
at one level AGL has been quite skilful at providing a certain level of
information to the community and
engaging with the community. But the real issues of serious consultation and the
effectiveness of community
consultative committees need to be addressed. At various times over the last few
years the various Ministers
responsible for these things have held these up to be the be all and end all in
the way that members of the
community can resolve their difficulties with the company and have all the
issues explained to them and really
The community consultative committees are constituted with narrow terms of
reference, even with an
independent chairman as someone mentioned before, and their scope, their
authority to influence and their
ability to extract information is quite limited. Really their effectiveness
often tends on the quality of the people
on the committee and whether they are prepared to stand up and push the issue. I
would encourage this
Committee to look at the issue of community consultative committees because it
is not working effectively in
respect of coal or coal seam gas.
CHAIR: Mr Smith, will you please submit those references to the Committee within
Mr SMITH: I will do that.
(The witnesses withdrew).
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