Dart executives get a roasting on coal seam gas plans

August 16 community meeting in St Peters Town Hall. Photo: Pip Hinman

Dart Energy company executives, accompanied by their minders, were roasted at a 200-strong Town Hall community meeting on August 16 in the inner city suburb of St Peters. Dart is the coal seam gas company with a licence to explore for coal seam gas under the whole of the Sydney basin.

Dart CEO Robbert de Weijer unsuccessfully tried to allay community fears about a number of issues. He argued it was “unlikely” drilling would even happen in St Peters and that the company doesn’t use the controversial fracking (hydraulic fracturing) process or BTEX chemicals (Benzine and similar toxins).

He said the contaminated water produced would be minimised and was easy to dispose of safely.

He claimed the industry was strongly regulated, that there was a huge gap between supply and demand for energy, and that gas, including coal seam gas, was the transition fuel to renewables.

Members of the audience — including an industry insider — disputed most of de Weijer's claims.

As de Weijer left the meeting early — despite the many hands still in the air — he was heckled by those wanting answers.

Sydney Residents Against Coal Seam Gas Mining (SRACSG) spokesperson Jacinta Green exposed the fallacy of Dart executives claiming they were “only an exploration company”.

She displayed a slide with a copy of NSW explorations manager Jason Needham signing off on a Review of Environmental Factors on the St Peters site for Macquarie Energy. Macquarie Energy is owned by Apollo which was taken over by Dart Energy. As Green said: “Dart Energy is Macquarie is Apollo.”

Dart exploration geologist Malcolm Bocking and Needham repeatedly told the increasingly angry crowd that there had been no opposition to CSG drilling in Eveleigh and Bunnerong in 1993-1994 and that exploration was not the same as mining. This only infuriated people more.

Green told Green Left Weekly: “Dart has the data from then. They say they are exploring to see what’s there. Really they’re exploring to see how they can get it out.”

Community activist Alan Rees pressed Dart on what it would do if the community was clearly opposed to the CSG plans. The Dart executives looked uncomfortable.

Paul Benedek, another activist with SRACSG, asked the room to express a view on the growing call for a moratorium on all coal seam gas mining until a Royal Commission had investigated the safety and environmental concerns.

Benedek said, referring to Dart representatives: “You talk about needing to know what’s underground. We’re more worried about what’s above — our schools, our homes, our parks."

All but Carmel Tebbutt, ALP MP for Marrickville, indicated their support for a moratorium and Royal Commission.

Tebbutt was accompanied by former ALP Premier Kristina Keneally. Neither said anything, declining an opportunity to speak.

NSW Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham told the meeting the Greens opposed coal seam gas and had moved for a NSW upper house inquiry into the industry.

“It’s not a Royal Commission,” he said, “but politics is the art of the possible.”

By the meeting’s close, the Dart executives were claiming to have taken the community’s concerns on board — meaning they would update their website and provide more information. One woman sitting near me said loudly: “It’s about profits, not people.”

[Stop CSG-Sydney (the new name for SRACSG) is holding a community protest on September 18.]

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