Gas wells spark fears

Site specific: Concerned environmentalists Peter Turner (left), Alan Lindsay and doctor Anne Young at the site of a proposed gas drilling bore in the Sydney Water catchment area in Darkes Forest. Picture: Adam McLean
Site specific: Concerned environmentalists Peter Turner (left), Alan Lindsay and doctor Anne Young at the site of a proposed gas drilling bore in the Sydney Water catchment area in Darkes Forest. Picture: Adam McLean
Under consideration: The proposed exploration area in Darkes Forest.Photo: Adam McLean

Under consideration: The proposed exploration area in Darkes Forest.Photo: Adam McLean

OPPONENTS of coal seam gas drilling in the Woronora catchment will have a chance to argue their case at a public meeting next month.

The NSW Planning Assessment Commission has called the meeting for 2pm Wednesday, February 13, at Helensburgh Workers Sports and Social Club.

It follows the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure's recommendation the commission approve Apex Energy's application for an extension of time to drill 16 gas wells around the Woronora and Upper Nepean catchments.

Some sites are in Darkes Forest and Maddens Plains. The department recommended a change to conditions to ensure clear drilling would not affect Dharawal National Park.

Stop CSG Illawarra spokeswoman Jess Moore said the recommendation was "grave news" for those who drank water from Woronora catchment.

"Eleven of the 16 wells are in areas so protected that I can be fined up to $44,000 for walking there," she said.

"CSG exploration and mining always involves unearthing water that is high in salt and methane, and can contain toxic and radioactive compounds and heavy metals."

The independent commission panel that will decide the application includes chairman Paul Forward, a former chief of the RTA and director of Sydney Water, and Bob McCotter, who has extensive experience in environmental impact assessment.

In its assessment report, the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure said the key environmental concerns raised in submissions were potential impacts on water and biodiversity and bushfire risk.

"The NSW government considers an increased use of natural gas to meet growing energy demand is important to economic growth in NSW," it said. "Currently, 95 per cent of NSW's gas supply comes from two pipelines [in] South Australia and . . . Victoria. The remaining 5 per cent is coal seam gas produced by the Camden Gas Project."

The report said Apex believed the project could potentially supply 20 per cent of Sydney's gas for 20 years.

BOARD REPLACED

Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson has defended her decision to replace the entire board of the Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA).

For the first time since it was set up after the contamination of Sydney’s dams in 1998, the board does not include a public health expert.

Stop CSG Illawarra spokeswoman Jess Moore said it was further evidence the government was ‘‘hell bent’’ on developing coal seam gas drilling in the catchment.

Opposition spokesman on the environment Luke Foley said Mark Bethwaite, the new chairman of the agency, was a former federal treasurer of the Liberal Party, with an extensive background in the mining industry.

Ms Hodgkinson said the new board comprised ‘‘a highly qualified and skilled group of individuals, well placed to understand and manage any risks posed to the SCA and its objectives’’.

Do you think the application should be approved?