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2011 NSW Parliament
Inquiry into Coal Seam Gas

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A matter of trust: – letter to Gloucester Advocate

Coal Seam Gas


Gloucester | Pilliga | Camden | Northern Rivers | Wollongong | Bentley
Woop Woop March | 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 Council representative, AGL Resources Community Consultative Committee, sworn and examined:

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:
the 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 supported;
. 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 statement?

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 follow

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 key points.

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.

It is 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.

The sensitivity of the Great Lakes environment calls for the rigorous application of a precautionary approach and full independent assessment of any proposals.

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 standards.

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 people are 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 information collected 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 planning scheme.

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 rushing it.

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 overlooked.

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.

And I 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 complicated.

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.

As Mr 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 should look 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.

I would 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 whip.

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 overwhelmingly stated 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 determination.

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 that.

Leave granted.
Document tabled.

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 as well.

Leave granted.
Document tabled.

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.

Would 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 handle it?

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.

Local 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 access it.

Mr TUCKERMAN: I make the point that—it is in our submission as well—we have to move away 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 go, then 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 levels.

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 issues out.

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 comfortable.

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 overseas companies.

The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Mr Tuckerman, you stated in your submission that the Great Lakes 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 strategic framework?

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.

There 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 Pangaea Resources. AGL is in the Gloucester Basin.

The Hon. RICK COLLESS: So far in the Great Lakes Shire what level of engagement has Pangaea
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 early days."

The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Do you know if they have been negotiating or engaging with individual 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 discussed before 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 looked at.

The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Mr Rosenbaum, I understand from your earlier testimony that you 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 councillor hat 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 to this?

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 said, different organisations seem to sell-on once they look for a resource. Lucas Energy was involved first of all. They approached us.

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."

There 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 Consultative Committee?

Ms GERMON: I am.

The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: What are the deficiencies there? We have heard a lot of discussion about independent—

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. You are 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 more?

Mr TUCKERMAN: Yes, we are aware that that is an Environment Protection and Biodiversity 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 Tony 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 and 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 had.

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 run.

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 tell me.

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 Protection and 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 is?

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 existing wells?

CHAIR: Yes, the councils may be able to provide the Committee with that information.

Mr JOSE: I could not provide that answer. MidCoast Water might be in a better position to do so.

Mr TUCKERMAN: 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 cited instances of two blowouts of wells, as you expressed it, leading to aquifers being affected. Did they occur in your patch?

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?
[Interruption]

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 for your 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 deeply appreciate local government people giving us the benefit of their experience.

(The witnesses withdrew).

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