Looming state election could make CSG drilling projects too hot to handle

THE company hoping to resume coal seam gas (CSG) exploration in the Woronora catchment believes the government will delay a decision until after the March election.

The suggestion came as Liberal MP for Heathcote Lee Evans warned the government could make "a fatal mistake" if it allowed operations to restart.

A report by NSW Chief Scientist Mary O'Kane found risks to human health and the environment by CSG operations could be managed, but that "unintended consequences" from accidents, human error and natural disasters were inevitable.

Protect Sydney's Water Alliance, representing more than 30 community groups, called for the temporary CSG ban in the "special areas" of drinking water catchments to be made permanent.

"Special areas" cover extensive tracts of land adjoining the waterways.

Magnum Gas & Power, which is in a joint venture with Apex Energy, wants to resume drilling 16 exploratory wells around the Woronora and Upper Nepean catchments.

Picture: Chris Lane.

Picture: Chris Lane.

Chairman of Magnum Gas & Power Tom Fontaine told the Leader: "We do not expect the government to do anything before the election, so we are not planning anything.

"We are requesting a meeting with advisers from the department, but have not had a chance to talk to anyone from the government."

He said calls for a complete ban were "ridiculous and politically opportunistic".

"If decisions are to be based on impractical absolutes instead of balanced science, then I await Mr Evans's demand that all the animals in these areas be removed because they are contaminating the area by defecating and urinating all over it," he said.

"The science is in; let's follow the experts' advice."

Mr Evans, who is believed to be among about 20 government MPs opposed to CSG operations in drinking water catchments, said he had written to Mr Baird and was seeking a meeting.

He believed Mr Baird would "do the right thing, not just for the people in my electorate but for all the people of NSW".

"I am concerned I am in a government that could make a fatal mistake for the future of NSW," he said.

Mr Evans said the risks were too great.

"There is no 'oops' here: if there is a breakdown or some other issue in the catchment, that's it," he said.

Mr Evans rejected the suggestion that if he felt so strongly then he should quit the government and move to the crossbench.

"I think I can achieve more inside the tent than outside it," he said.

Mr Evans's stance was praised by community and environmental groups.

National Parks Association NSW (southern Sydney branch) said in a letter of congratulations that biodiversity of the Woronora Plateau catchment and the water supply "for millions . . . is too important to risk".

"Please continue your efforts to have the Baird government place a permanent ban on any CSG activity in the catchment," it said.

Branch secretary Gary Schoer said if "special areas" were so special they should be protected by a higher category of protection, and classified as nature reserves.

"The current 'co-operative' arrangements between National Parks and Wildlife Service and water authorities have not to date provided any permanent protection for these lands that contribute a substantive component of the 'ring of green' surrounding Sydney that is supposed to protect water, native plants and animals alike," he said.

Georges River Environmental Alliance secretary Sharyn Cullis said that the public was "entitled to know what the government intends to do before they vote [in the election]".

RESIDENTS REMAIN OPPOSED

THE Darkes Forest Residents Association does not want gas drilling rigs back in the area.

Association president Peter Field said the community would have ‘‘serious doubts’’ about any promises the company made to protect the water supply.

‘‘They told us disgusting lies when they were here previously.’’ 

Greg Petty, an independent on Wollongong City Council (pictured centre), who is expected to again contest the state election, said it was ‘‘another case of residents having no say in the decision-making process’’.

He called on Mr Evans to ‘‘cross the floor’’ in Parliament in support of a permanent ban.

Do you think there should be a ''permanent ban'' on gas drilling in this area? 

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