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Aussies Against Fracking
GENERAL PURPOSE STANDING
COMMITTEE No. 5 27 MONDAY 31 OCTOBER 2011
LISA JANE SHIFF, Director,
Planning and Environmental Services, Great Lakes Council,
GERARD TUCKERMAN, Manger Natural Systems, Great Lakes Council,
GERARD MICHAEL JOSE, General Manager, Greater Taree City Council,
JOHN ROSENBAUM, Deputy Mayor, Gloucester Shire Council, and landholder, and
NOREEN JUNE GERMON, Councillor, Gloucester Shire Council, and Gloucester Shire
representative, AGL Resources Community Consultative Committee, sworn and
CHAIR: Each council representative may make an opening statement before
proceeding to questions.
Mr Rosenbaum, do you wish to make an opening statement?
Mr ROSENBAUM: My first comments are taken from Gloucester Shire Council's
submission to this
inquiry, which reads:
Council's submission is based on the terms of reference within Point 1:
environmental and health impacts of coal seam gas
activity, Point 2:
the economic and social implications of coals seam gas
activities and Point 4:
the interaction of the Act with
other legislation and regulations, including the Land Acquisition (Just Terms
Compensation) Act 1991.
Council has formulated a policy in relation to the exploration and extension of
mining and petroleum activities in the Gloucester
Valley. This policy States:
Council recognises the economic benefits and responsible environmental
management of past and current mining
operations within the Shire, however, despite economic benefits, any extension
and new mining proposals will not be
. unless stringent environmental and social expectations are met
. unless extensive community consultation has taken place
. if the aesthetics of the Shire are comprised in any way
. if the proposal is located in a State Conservation Area
That resolution was passed on 21 May 2008. I continue:
Council has also made a submission to the Federal Minister for Sustainability,
Environment, Water, Population and
Communities, The Hon Tony Burke MP;
Requesting that he not approve AGL's first stage concept, until, according to
the Australian Government's National Water
Commission's position paper (December 2010), the risk of significant long term
and adverse impacts on adjacent surface and
ground water systems are understood and are adequately managed and regulated.
That resolution was passed on 16 March 2011. I have that policy document from
the water commission if
someone would like to that on board.
CHAIR: Would you like to table that document?
Mr ROSENBAUM: Yes. I will find it.
CHAIR: Was it included in your submission?
Mr ROSENBAUM: Yes, it was part of the submission.
CHAIR: The Committee will have it. Mr Jose, do you wish to make an opening
Mr JOSE: The issue of coal seam gas activity has been before the Greater Taree
City Council since
February this year, and it has been discussed a number of times at both council
and committee meetings. I also
have a couple of extracts from recent council ordinary meetings that I will
table. I read from the Manning Valley
Community Plan—our 20-year future planning document—which captures some of the
issues and hopes:
Our hope for the future.
We believe in the future of the Manning Valley
And we are committed to working together
To create a regional centre that is prosperous and sustainable
To nurture a community that is caring, healthy and vibrant
And to preserve this beautiful, rare and especial place for generations that
In essence, the Greater Taree City Council, at a meeting held on 21 September in
response to a mayoral minute,
reinforced its in principle opposition to coal seam gas mining until suitable
policy, procedures and safeguards
are adopted to protect the environment of this beautiful area.
Mr TUCKERMAN: You have our submission but I would like to draw out a couple of
The thing that sets the Great Lakes apart from many other areas is the strong
link between the health of our
waterways and environment and the local economy through the tourism industry,
which is worth $140 million a
year, the oyster industry and commercial estuarine fishing.
Great Lakes Council,
together with the State
Government and the Federal Government, has invested significantly in collecting
a large body of scientific
information on the health of our lakes and catchments.
These catchments are
constrained and are susceptible to
catchment development activities. This investment of $2.3 million provides a
large body of science by which
Great Lakes Council and government departments can manage the long-term
sustainability of the lakes.
Great Lakes Council's position that the unacceptable uncertainty that is
involved with coal seam gas at the
moment and the large body of science that we have means that the science needs
to be applied to the industry to
make sure that the same standards that we apply to land development industries
within our catchment are
applied to the cumulative impacts of projects and individual projects.
sensitivity of the Great Lakes
environment calls for the rigorous application of a precautionary approach and
full independent assessment of
Ms SCHIFF: My comment is around the issue of community engagement in the process
as we proceed
further down the path. We recognise that council has limited or no regulatory
responsibility in relation to the
assessment process in coal seam gas development, but we are the custodians of
the local area and many of the
concerns raised overlap into considerations of council's strategic plan.
We as a
council would like to see a
balanced and objective consideration of the issues. It is clear to date that the
community and stakeholder
engagement processes around coal seam gas issues fall well short of accepted
We would like to see a
more meaningful and transparent engagement process as we go along the path. The
conventional approach of
defending the decisions that are made on a large scale, particularly in relation
to the cumulative development of
coal seam gas and mining concerns, will not resolve the deep and evident
community concern around this issue.
We would like to see a local and strategic approach to coal seam gas where an
exchange of information
can take place and independent scientific experts are made accessible to the
community and stakeholders. We
would like to see the State Government and industry approach the engagement
process by moving beyond
managing the engagement as a compliance activity and genuinely involve people,
and by doing this we can help
to build some trust in the process.
It would be our recommendation that as part
of the review of the regulatory
framework for coal seam gas, best practice engagement processes be required for
all new coal seam gas
developments so that the decision-making has the confidence of the community.
The engagement should be
fully funded by the industry but managed and undertaken independently to remove
any allegation or inference
of bias and also to ensure that a conventional public relations exercise is
avoided in the future.
Only by building
trust in the process can we also have trust in the outcome. Our council is very
keen to see a very robust
community engagement process that is independent and is based on science. We
would like to see that
information genuinely and openly shared between the stakeholders.
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY: On the issue of scientific experts, there is no doubt
debating the science associated with coal seam gas exploration and production.
Have you given particular
thought as to what could be the process or the structure of conducting
independent scientific research that would
have the confidence of the community? How might we go about that?
Mr TUCKERMAN: As I said, at Great Lakes we have a large body of scientific
through Commonwealth and State-funded projects. We know a lot about the
functioning of our catchment and
our lake and to fit with that any proposal needs to utilise existing models for
the catchment and the lake and be
able to validate, not just to the council but to the community, that our water
quality objective, which is the
neutral beneficial effect of no net change, is applied.
To have confidence in
that, if the industry is going to
collect the information, which is typically what happens, there needs to be
opportunity for an independent peer
review. There is always suspicion associated with development proponents
collecting information without
scrutiny from independent experts.
The problem at the moment from a local
government perspective is that we
do not have a body of technical knowledge to be able to assess a coal seam gas
proposal. As you can appreciate,
there is very little experience in dealing with coal seam gas developments and a
lack of technical knowledge,
and that puts us at a disadvantage in fully scrutinising any scientific
information that is delivered to us by the
coal seam gas industry.
We are suggesting the industry should fund a peer
review, which would then be
communicated to all stakeholders, including local communities, industries—in our
case we would like our
oyster industry and tourism industry to be involved—and the local council. Then
we should have the
opportunity to ask questions of the peer reviewers.
The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: You may be aware that the Government is developing a
strategic regional land use plan to regulate mining and coal seam gas in New
South Wales and those plans are
rolling out initially in the Upper Hunter, New England, North West, Central West
and the Southern Highlands.
They do not capture this region yet. I am sure that ultimately they will. I am
interested to know whether you
believe there should be a moratorium on any further activity in these industries
until such time as either those
plans have been developed for this industry or, as Mr Tuckerman was saying, the
peer review science that looks
at the whole impact of this industry has been done.
Mr JOSE: I believe there should be a moratorium, as Gerry Tuckerman was
indicating, until there is
suitable scientific evidence that has been peer reviewed and that results in
policy directions that can guide and
direct all parties and everyone is clear on the steps that would be involved in
any approval under a land use
We believe this is required to protect all our
industries—tourism, farming, agricultural
development—as well as also ensuring that future generations can continue to
enjoy access to our water.
Ms GERMON: I also believe there should be a moratorium until the land use
strategies have been put
in place. It is really important, particularly in our area, for the farming
community to know where they are going
and what their future is. They will not know that until a land use strategy is
actually in place.
Mr TUCKERMAN: There is a lot at stake; there is considerable investment in the
science and also in
the industries and the environment. We do not want to lose that for the sake of
The council fully
supports the concept of the New South Wales Coal and Gas Strategy. It is a good
idea, but we also suggest that
the Great Lakes and perhaps the Gloucester region should be considered
separately from the Hunter. If we are
lumped together as one the local sensitivities of our pretty constrained
catchments and estuaries will be
Compared to the Hunter, the Great Lakes economy is fairly small. I
think there is a need to
differentiate the Great Lakes and Gloucester basins from the Hunter.
suppose, by definition, when you
rigorously apply the precautionary approach, you cannot help but conclude that
we need a strategy before you
embark on anything. So I guess that means a moratorium.
Ms SCHIFF: I would like to follow on from those comments by saying that we
commend the State
Government for undertaking the land use assessment framework work that is
presently being done because the
assessment and approval processes are very complicated and the legislation at a
Commonwealth, State and local
level are not very well integrated.
So it is extremely difficult to actually
work your way through the legislative
process and then, when you start to apply catchment of water planning
arrangements and local catchment
arrangements and land use and water quality strategies and improvements, the mix
becomes even more
So I fully advocate that we do not progress ahead of the
preparation of proper strategic planning
documents that take into account the whole of the legislative framework.
Tuckerman said, we would ask
to be considered separately from the Hunter because we believe that our issues
in relation to the Myall
catchment and particularly the Ramsar wetlands for the Myall Lakes, are very
different from the issues that
would be addressed in, for instance, the Upper Hunter land use framework.
Mr ROSENBAUM: I agree with all the comments that have been made. I agree that we
differently at this area, especially the Stroud-Gloucester basin right through
to the Manning Valley here. This is
based on the geological information I have taken on board and it talks about the
different folds and fractures in
the coal seam within our basin, as compared to the Hunter Valley where there is
a caked layer, unlike the area
we are in.
It is disturbing when you read the information that is out there from people in
their field who talk about
the complexity of the valley and I think it has been disregarded in any
decisions that have been made. We are in
a very awkward position at the moment.
As you are aware, the concept plan that
has been approved for AGL in
the valley, it is more or less a go-ahead and it has come up with something like
64 other conditions placed on
them, but I think there is going to be a huge concern about the aquifers within
the Gloucester Valley especially.
There have already been two episodes that I am aware of and I am sure it has
been reported to the proper
authorities, two blow-outs on two existing wells that were done previously from
interacting through the different
aquifers. It is so complex and it certainly needs greater consideration.
like to think that is going to be
taken on board before AGL is able to continue. Because where it starts—and it is
going to start in the Gloucester
Valley—and it gets up and running, I am sorry, I would have to expect that it
would just grow and grow like a
I think it is so important, before AGL continues along the lines of giving
further approval, that we have a
peer review of what is being spoken about and further extensive scientific proof
to say that there is not going to
be any environmental impacts in relation to it.
And as far as the community is concerned, we did a survey and the community
that it would prefer not to have any extension mining through the Gloucester
Valley, for several reasons on
which other people will speak today.
I believe that people in the community have
a right to express and put their
points of view across to the Government which we elect and which should be
sitting up and taking notice. I am
happy to table this today, I have a statement from the Premier, and Minister for
Western Sydney which was sent
to a resident and given to me. I will not read it all:
These exploration licences, and in particular one of them, is in my view too
close to the urban area of Gloucester and is in my
view an unsuitable area for coal mining. It is my understanding that the
Planning process, if and when a development application
is lodged, will need to consider this and other environmental aspects in any
I am aware and am in frequent consultation with the local MP, George Souris, who
I know shares these views and have
advocated them in the New South Wales Parliament.
It goes on indicating that this will be the case. I would like to hope that is
going to be taken on board. I table
I would also like to make a comment in relation to health issues. I believe this
was also sent to the
inquiry into coal seam gas, submission No. 17 by Dr Wayne Somerville and Mrs
Susan Somerville, received on
23 August 2011. It talks about the major health issues revolving around coal
seam gas and we will talk about
mining because the cumulative effect is the same.
It is rather concerning to
read what is written here and I can
assure you, if you would like to talk to people in the Gloucester Valley, they
will concur with his professional
opinion on what is happening to the people health-wise and I believe that that
is being neglected totally in what
is happening to the people where these activities are taking place. I table that
CHAIR: I ask the witnesses, you have your backs to the audience and sometimes
they cannot tell who
is speaking. If you can state your name before you answer a question. We will
move around the table. Before we
do, the Chair will take a question. I will direct this question to any of you
who wish to answer.
In these types of
inquiries that relate to very complex issues, whether they be mining or in this
case an extremely complex issue,
we quite often receive the comment from witness submissions and from audience
comment that it is an almost
impossible process for ordinary people in the community trying to understand and
respond to extensive
Environmental Impact Statements.
Given that whatever process happens, local
government to some extent will
have an ongoing role in assessing and submitting to some of these things.
any of you like to put forward
some suggestions to the committee as to how you think either the State
Government or local Government could
better provide for local individuals or advocacy groups being able to access
technical expertise in order to be
able to properly assess those large environmental impact statements. Do you
think it is something that, provided
funding was available, local government could provide or do you think that the
State Government should be
providing something like an independent advisory panel or an expert panel to
advise them? How would you
Mr JOSE: I think my personal view would be that the State Government provides
the level of
resources to interpret the scientific peer-reviewed information and, as Miss
Schiff said, that would then enable
genuine community understanding and engagement around the issues.
government, under its charter, has a
responsibility to properly manage, enhance and preserve its area and ensure that
it promotes the principles of
ecologically sustainable development.
I think we are confronted with a lack of
capacity to provide expert
guidance to our community as well as our council to undertake this exercise. We
need to access the resources in
a way that can guide that but more importantly, for the community to be able to
Mr TUCKERMAN: I make the point that—it is in our submission as well—we have to
from our regulation-style consultation by industry on these pretty sensitive
issues, to a more meaningful forum
with more of an engagement process where people have the opportunity to hear
from proponents but also
independent peer reviewers and ask questions.
Those sorts of interactive forums
will give more credence to the
science and the science is what can help resolve these issues and provide some
good communication, good
confidence to the community. At the moment unfortunately the process, being a
sort of claim-and-defend type
of arrangement, has undermined public trust in the process to do with these
highly sensitive projects.
CHAIR: Would you suggest that that take place before the assessment process?
Mr TUCKERMAN: Yes indeed, the earlier you can do it the better. Once it is let
unfortunately the science is lost in an environment of fear. So yes, it should
take place early on.
Ms SCHIFF: I think that, in answer to your question about should the State
Government be having
input into assisting people to be able to deal with the large volumes of very
complex information or should it
happen at a local government level, I think that it should be something that the
State Government funds. I would
commend the State Government to an association called the International
Association of Public Participation.
The issues around how to engage people over these last few years have become, I
do not want to say "complex",
but a lot of work has gone into the best way to engage people at different
Some people will relish
receiving a copy of an environmental impact statement in the mail; other people
need to see things visually;
some people may just need a series of facts sheets;
and some people may just
need to sit around and be able to
talk to people, in a non-threatening environment, to be able to tease their
The issues that are
addressed in the environmental impact statement will not necessarily just be
those that relate to science, they
will be related to social and economic impact and those sorts of issues.
So I would encourage the State Government to adopt an integrated approach
towards their community
engagement, engage professionals and to get out there well before the assessment
process and start engaging
with people, start building trust and make people comfortable to ask the
"stupid" questions that people do not
always feel comfortable in asking.
In doing that, you will build the capacity of
people to understand the
information presented, and so you will get a more meaningful discussion. Instead
of getting people just saying
"no", they will have an idea about the sorts of things they are commenting on
because they will have a greater
understanding and I think there is a lot to be gained from that.
Ms GERMON: I agree with the other speakers. I believe that the State Government
needs to provide
funds to service this and also an expert panel. But I still believe that there
will be a percentage of people out
there that will feel alienated from the process and no matter what we do, will
have difficulties involved in the
process. How we are going to overcome that, I do not know.
Mr ROSENBAUM: I agree with what everybody has said. The reality is that people
do not want to
live around these areas, so the sooner the strategic land use plan is put in
place, so that people can be aware of
where these activities are not going to take place, they will feel a lot more
Nobody that I know
would want to live alongside a gas well—that is the reality of it. It will not
matter how much information or how
much money you want to throw at it, you have to be prepared to put areas aside
where this is not to take place.
We can say it is for the good of the State; I am afraid it is not for the good
of the State, it is for the good of
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Mr Tuckerman, you stated in your submission that the
Council is supportive of the development of the NSW Coal and Gas Strategy to
provide a strategic framework
for determining the constraints and opportunities for coal seam gas exploration
and development. Will you give
us some idea of what factors should be taken into account in developing that
Mr TUCKERMAN: Probably the first thing you would do is to make an initial
assessment of the
capability of some of the areas. There are some areas, which are pretty obvious
to the community and to
technical people, that the capability is not there for coal seam gas—the
sensitivities are perhaps too great—places like the Myall Lakes catchment, which is a Ramsar listed wetland.
might be drinking water supply
catchments where an initial sieve of capabilities might exclude, in all
probability, if you are taking a
precautionary approach, those areas. Initially, let us look at the areas where
we should be exploring. At the
moment there is no development in the Great Lakes; it is the exploration of
leases that are in place.
Some of that
fear and concern in the community might be taken away if we excluded those
really sensitive areas. Perhaps it
would be a good start if we excluded those areas that the community values very
strongly and that already have
strong regulatory frameworks to protect them.
The next step as part of the strategy—and members of the panel have talked about
that already—is to
engage with the stakeholders: the community, other industries and government, to
try and flush out which areas
may well be more closely looked at; those areas where there is no other
competing land-use issues. We are
getting to the hard point where there are a lot more people in New South Wales,
we have a lot of other industries
and there are other values and other long-term benefits for other industries. We
have to make sure that we are
looking after the whole range of industries and our local economies. If we can
do that sieve, then you can get to
the more technical issues about how you dispose of waste water and those sorts
of technical issues.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: This issue of engagement with stakeholders has been
brought up in a lot
of the submissions to the Committee and by other witnesses we have interviewed.
So far in the Great Lakes
Shire what level of engagement has AGL participated in?
Mr TUCKERMAN: AGL is not present in the Great Lakes. There is a company called
Resources. AGL is in the Gloucester Basin.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: So far in the Great Lakes Shire what level of engagement
Resources participated in?
Ms SCHIFF: We have not had any level of engagement with that company at all;
save for a phone call
that I made to them last week saying we had not heard anything from them. We
were given a leaflet across our
front counter some months ago saying that exploration would be undertaken by
seismic survey within road
reserves. Other than that, we have heard nothing from them. I called them last
Friday and said, "We have heard
nothing from you. There is a high level of anxiety not only amongst our
councillors but also amongst our
community. Why haven't we heard anything from you?" They said, "Well, it is very
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Do you know if they have been negotiating or engaging
landowners at all?
Ms SCHIFF: I do not know personally but I have heard on the grapevine, so to
speak, that negotiations
have been under way. From a formal council point of view I am not aware that
negotiations are taking place.
CHAIR: Do the Gloucester representatives want to comment on that?
Ms GERMON: Yes. From our point of view AGL is getting in contact with all the
landowners in the
area, particularly when they are doing seismic testing. They are also contacting
them if they are looking at
putting wellheads on their properties. So they are contacting them. They also
have quite regular contact with
council as well.
Mr ROSENBAUM: Before the exploration phase—the exploration stage should be
they even enter onto anybody's property. People should be aware, and that has
never taken place. I raised the
issue eight or nine years ago. The exploration phase is a bloody joke. They come
and they do more than explore.
They say to you, "But we are only exploring." You only explore for one reason.
The legislation needs to be
tightened up. The exploration phase needs to be shortened. It takes too long and
people are suffering under the
length of time. Different organisations buy these exploration licences, they sit
on them for awhile, they play
around and then they sell them off to somebody else. That area needs to be
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Mr Rosenbaum, I understand from your earlier testimony
are personally affected as a landowner. Is that correct?
Mr ROSENBAUM: That is correct.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Will you tell the Committee—not so much with your
on but with your landowner hat on—what is being planned, as far as you are
aware, for the coverage of your
property and any interaction you might have had with the companies in relation
Mr ROSENBAUM: That could take a long time.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Briefly.
Mr ROSENBAUM: I will be as brief as I can. I will start from the beginning. As I
organisations seem to sell-on once they look for a resource.
Lucas Energy was
involved first of all. They
They came along and explained in brief form what was going to
happen. The brief form was to
say, "We would like to explore to see if there is gas on your property."
is no mention of any
infrastructure. There is no mention of fracking. There is no mention of how many
vehicles are likely to be on
your place. You get over that stage. Then they come along and get to the stage
of wanting to run seismic tests.
Yes, they come along and they say, "Yes, we would like to get access." They come
along to the farmers or to
anyone who has property and say, "We are going to do all these seismic tests."
Then 30 vehicles and 20 or 30
blokes every day are all over your farm. "We will give you $1,000." It is a
bloody joke. They treat you like
idiots. They think they can give us tuppence.
Really, at the end of the day the
person who owns the land has
very little to say. He or she is treated as if, "We have the right." I pay the
rates. I paid for the land in the first
place. It is my property, surely I have some rights.
Then you allow them on to your place. You enter into an agreement with them. So
most farming people
you will find will accept a contract and say, "As long as you come and see me it
will be right." Once you sign
that contract they come in and do what they like. They do not come back. You ask
if they will come back and
see you. They never report on a day-to-day basis as to what is going on. Once
the contract is signed there does
not seem to be anybody policing the contractors. That is a real fear. It is a
real issue that the contractors can do
what they like. "I will be here in a week." Then the next morning they are on
your doorstep. They treat you as if
it is their property and they say, "We are invited guests." They are not
invited. It is not a good experience.
People who are not involved with it do not understand what really happens. It is
just a continuous nightmare.
Then, as an owner of this place, everything is shutdown and the whole place
becomes stifled. We talk
about compensation. Compensation will never compensate for what these people
have or what I have. There is
not enough compensation. They offer you peanuts and eventually you have to come
to an agreement. At the
very beginning they offer you very little and it is very disturbing. Some
farmers do not bother trying to become
involved with any solicitors, lawyers or to seek legal opinion. They say, "We
will accept that." But an amount of
$1,000 to do a seismic test—a fortnight ago I sat in and had a look at the
graphs from the seismic tests in the
Gloucester Basin. You should ask AGL what the seismic tests look like, about the
faults in the Gloucester Basin
and how they are going to try to drill wellheads up to a kilometre or maybe 1.5
kilometres down through that.
When you look at that, you ask yourself how many they are going to put on your
property. They do not
know. Maybe two or maybe three, it will depend on whether the goal posts
change—where they are allowed to
put them and where they are not allowed to put them. The uncertainty in all of
this is a nightmare. It goes on and
on. This could go on for another five years before I know exactly what my
position is going to be. We have to
live with this on a day-to-day basis, and there is no compensation whatsoever
for the people who live alongside
it. I am not happy. The early stage of the exploration phase is too great and
with very little input from anybody
else. The exploration phase in all extracting industries is the one that I would
really concentrate on.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: Ms GERMON, you are on the AGL Resources Community
Ms GERMON: I am.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: What are the deficiencies there? We have heard a lot of
Ms GERMON: Consultation.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: Lack of. So they are talking at you?
Ms GERMON: No, I think consultation and disseminating information to the general
public is one of
the main issues. I have only just come on the committee. Just going back through
the minutes you can see they
have been given the heave-ho to get something done, particularly to put into
place a means of letting the
community know what is going on. It might take two or three meetings before
anything actually happens. I think
it worries people that the process is so slow. That is basically it.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: Mr Tuckerman, in your submission you talk about Ramsar.
aware with Ramsar that if it is an invoke control action then the Federal
Government would step in pretty
quickly under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and
it would be taken out of the
State Government's hands. Does that give you comfort or does that worry you
Mr TUCKERMAN: Yes, we are aware that that is an Environment Protection and
Conservation Act matter. I would suggest that both the State and Commonwealth
governments should be
working together on those sorts of issues. It should not necessarily be left to
the Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Act. It is also a national park and we know a lot
about the function of Myall Lakes.
Those sorts of issues should be picked up in the NSW Coal and Gas Strategy, the
land use strategy, so you may
not ever get to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. I
think both levels of government
should be working together to address those sorts of issues.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: Mr Rosenbaum, you mentioned that you have written to
Burke. Has he replied to you about the groundwater issue?
Mr ROSENBAUM: I have not got the documentation on me but he would have replied
acknowledged the letter. That would have been it. It would have been a printed
acknowledgement. I would like
to make a comment in relation to the consultative committee. They only give as
much information as they want
to. No more. It would not matter how many consultative committee meetings you
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: Are you saying it is a one-way street?
Mr ROSENBAUM: Any person who runs a business is only going to tell you as much
as they want to.
That is the reality of it.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: That comes back to the idea of having it independently
Mr ROSENBAUM: That is true, but I still believe it is a matter of being sure
that it is going to happen
before they get to this stage.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: My next question relates to all three councils,
Gloucester, Taree and
Great Lakes. Do you have any idea how many wells have been sunk in your
respective councils and shires for
drinking water, stock water and agricultural use—just a rough figure?
Mr ROSENBAUM: There are very few in the Gloucester Basin at this time. If you
were lucky you
might find 20. As I said before, it is the way the geology of the basin forms
and the interaction as it is being
affected. We will not know how those wells are going to be affected. There might
be people in this room who
can explain to me and others why it is that if you extract water from a system,
whether it is a bucketful every
week or 10,000 litres, it keeps filling up. Water must be getting in somewhere.
I have asked that question many
times: where is the water coming from? If you lower a water table and you have
to keep it lowered so that the
gas comes out, why do you have to keep lowering it? Once you get to a level it
should remain there. If you do
not keep lowering it the gas will not come out. It seems pretty simple to me.
Surely someone should be able to
tell me why the water keeps filling up. In 10 years time some poor property
owner may find out their property is
starting to dry out because we have not had enough rain and it is leaching from
way out there. It has to come
from somewhere. I do not have the qualifications to give you the answers but I
would certainly like someone to
CHAIR: Before we continue I acknowledge my colleague the Hon. Jenny Gardiner who
will be sitting
in as a participating member. Ms Schiff, do you wish to make a comment in
relation to the last question?
Ms SCHIFF: Yes. The question was whether the provisions of the Environment
Biodiversity Conservation Act gave Great Lakes Council a degree of comfort in
terms of the potential impacts
of any future or proposed coal seam gas mining activity.
My concern is, as I
said before, that the legislative
framework is so complicated, particularly spanning different levels of
government. Sections 16 and 17B of that
Act refer to the requirement that approval be given where an activity will have
a significant impact on the
ecological character of a declared Ramsar Convention wetland, but who determines
what the significant impact
There is always an opportunity where there is no independent peer review of
scientific information for that
issue not to be sufficiently well addressed to give a balanced result. That is
the plainest way I can say that. There
is a danger.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: Can I put on notice my question about the number of
CHAIR: Yes, the councils may be able to provide the Committee with that
Mr JOSE: I could not provide that answer. MidCoast Water might be in a better
position to do so.
MidCoast Water is appearing before the Committee this afternoon
and they will
talk about the Tea Gardens aquifer and the other aquifer. Most of the
agricultural water is surface flow.
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE: In your initial presentation, Councillor Rosenbaum, you
instances of two blowouts of wells, as you expressed it, leading to aquifers
being affected. Did they occur in
Mr ROSENBAUM: No, they occurred in a neighbouring property. Did I use the word
"cited"? I said I
know of them. I believe they were reported to the Environment Protection
Authority. This would have happened
in the early stages of Lucas Energy exploring there. It was documented through
council's papers that there was
interference with the water aquifer when they were drilling on Ellis's property
and that they should be reported. I
know they have been. What concerns me is that much drilling has been done in the
Gloucester Basin for 30
years or maybe longer. There are always holes that have been drilled and not
plugged properly. They are
supposed to identify where they are. I do not think they know whether they exist
or where they exist. Where the
blowouts took place they were drawing gas from wells that were, say, 800 metres
apart. Fracking takes only
about 500 metres around the well. I believe that in drilling for gas they go
down to a kilometre or even further.
When you explore for coal it could be only 100 metres or 120 metres, yet I am
told there is no interaction. If one
hole goes down only 150 metres and another goes down a kilometre and they start
extracting gas and there is a
blowout in an experimental hole, why does that occur? Why is it blowing out at
that level? The information they
give us is that the layer of sandstone seals off the rest of the aquifers. When
they were extracting the gas it blew
the core out of the ground in the old coal seam gas wells. It might have come up
about a metre out of the ground
from, say, 150 metres down. Those wells would not have gone down a kilometre. I
am sure of that. Does what I
am saying make sense?
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE: That makes sense and I am sure we will follow that up.
How do you
respond to the suggestion that the coal seam gas industry will bring jobs and
prosperity to your area?
Mr ROSENBAUM: I think the audience has answered that question. At the very early
stage there is
no doubt there is short-term benefit. I will not deny that there has to be
short-term benefit because workers are
coming in all the time. It is transitional work. These transitional workers are
only there for a short time. It might
take five years. After five years the coal seam gas industry may employ 15 or 30
people. There will be a lot of
people who create a lot of wealth in the community who will move away from
Gloucester so it does not balance
out. Tourism will suffer and the retirees who come here and bring a lot of
wealth to the area and contribute
enormously to community life like ours will suffer. Nobody wants to live
alongside a gas well. The employment
is only short term. In the future it will do far greater harm to the Gloucester
Basin and that will outweigh the
short-term gains. I am told the gas wells last for 10 to 15 years. Manning
Valley should beware because each
time one well dries up another one will have to replace it. After 15 years or 20
years, as the first 112 wells cease
operating, the companies will move on to the next wells. They just keep tacking
them on. By the end of the first
stage we might have an understanding of the environmental issues we face but I
do not believe the job prospects
are great in the long term.
The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: You are community leaders and professional planners
communities and you have obviously done a lot of strategic planning to attract
and promote industries and to
promote lifestyles. I note that Manning Valley's catchcry is "Manning Valley
Naturally". Do you see coal seam
gas being a good fit with your strategic plans?
Mr JOSE: The word is "no". We do not see coal seam gas extraction methodologies
as compatible at
the moment. Obviously industries having access to cleanly produced gas would be
important for us in the long
term but until it can be extracted and delivered cleanly industry is not going
to benefit from it.
Mr ROSENBAUM: You may like to take this matter on board: In our local
environment plan we talk
about development. A local environment plan tells the community where the growth
is going to take place in
housing and industry and we plan for it. That is a four- to five-year plan
normally. It probably takes longer by
the time you do the second one, but it is that length of time.
We make those
decisions in good faith. I come back
again to Gloucester: We encourage people to come and live in these areas, but
the overlying factor is that
mining overrides our local environment plan so the mining development is allowed
to take place.
I believe if the
State Government ticks off our local environment plan that is how it should be.
The mining industry should not
have a right to override that local environment plan.
CHAIR: We have run out of time. Thank you for giving us your expert opinion. We
local government people giving us the benefit of their experience.
(The witnesses withdrew).
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