LIVE BLOG: Illawarra Coal Seam Gas conference

LIVE BLOG Sunday March 25
Green Left Weekly is reporting live from the Coal Seam Gas Community Conference at Wollongong Town Hall on March 25.

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3.30pm After a conference lunch break, four workshops were held concurrently. The most popular workshop was on blockade skills and planning for a CSG community blockade, which drew almost 100 people. Other workshops were on building community support, an introduction to CSG and working on Stop CSG Illawarra’s plan to get thousands of signs on houses and businesses across the Illawarra.

The final all-in conference session adopted the following resolutions unanimously:
• Mobilise supporters for a May 1 rally outside NSW parliament, spearheaded by the farmers, to oppose the NSW government’s Strategic Land Use Policy.
• Maintain suburban organisation, including stalls, letterboxing, and film screenings.
• Consider options for the Illawarra’s next big local action and look at the Lock The Gate plans for a national day of action in September.
• Call on University of Wollongong to declare any research it is carrying out on behalf of the CSG industry. There are indications UWS has a sponsorship relationship with AGL, a big CSG company.
• Promote the April 14 Rock to Stop CSG fundraiser.

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12.30pm The mood lifts as the discussion turns to action and the campaign needed to stop CSG.

Stop CSG Illawarra’s Jess Moore says: “We’ve done big events, the human sign on Austinmere, the bridge walk, but essentially the key work we have done is talking to people – day in, day out, raising awareness.

“We’ve had small wins, but haven’t won yet.

“BTEX chemicals are being banned from being used – but you can’t fully ban BTEX chemicals because they can occur in produced water, even if not used.

“We’ve seen evaporation ponds banned – yet in the Pilliga they are still used, and at Oakdale there are open air ‘sumps’ instead of ‘evaporation ponds’ – what is the difference?

“We won a one-year moratorium on new fracking projects – yet fracking still allowed for existing projects…and what new information do we have that means fracking should be allowed again after the moratorium?

“We won unanimous support for the campaign from the Wollongong council. We’ve had the NSW ALP reverse its pro-CSG policy to support a moratorium.

“But we’ve had a broken promise from the NSW government. Not a millimetre of NSW is ruled out to CSG.

“We had the moratorium bill put by the Greens, supported by the ALP, but voted down 16-19 with the Coalition, the Christian Democrats and the Shooters against.

“We need to ask what cost if we don’t cancel these licenses? What cost to our health, to our water, to our environment? Look at asbestos industry, and the damage that did.

“Public opinion is 74% for a moratorium – but opinion is not enough – we need people to act.

“We can’t act just as individuals – need to come together – that’s the one good thing CSG has done – brought people together, brought community together.”

To loud cheers from the 300-strong crowd, Moore says: “A recent meeting of Stop CSG Illawarra voted that if they attempt to start drilling, we will blockade. We need to fight until government policy catches up with what communities across NSW are calling for.”

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12pm Beyond Zero Emissions strategic director Mark Ogge outlines the mass expansion of CSG and gas in general.

“The Pilliga forrest, the ‘lungs of NSW’, a beautiful place, will be covered by industrial gas infrastructure across 8000 hectares,” Ogge says.

To audible gasps as an image is screened of the world heritage area destroyed to make way for the port, Ogge says: “World Heritage Curtis Island has been excised to be used as a gas port. That’s the smallest of four massive gas port projects in Queensland.

“NSW is where Queensland was six or seven years ago."

He shows a graph of today’s 20 million tons of gas that Australia exports, rising to 140 million tons of gas exported in a matter of years.

“The CSG industry says it is necessary to replace coal,” says Ogge. “But renewables can supply 100%. Other countries are expanding in solar and wind. Solar thermal produces heat, and that allows solar power to be stored and released when needed.”

Ogge shows a revealing graph, that as mining has boomed, all other manufacturing areas have shrunk. In terms of employment, the mining industry employs less than 2% of the workforce. So as mining increases at the expense of other industries, it is eating up jobs.

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11.15am Jess Moore, founding member of Stop CSG Illawarra and a regional spokesperson for Lock The Gate, is introduced as a “community treasure” to launch the first panel.

Moore outlines the key concerns around CSG, starting with water.

Any extraction technique produces contaminated water.

“Salt is the first contaminant – it sounds innocuous. But the federal government revealed that over the next decade 150 million tons of salt will be produced by CSG activity.

“Queensland gas has gained approval to build a salt pit the size of four MCGs.

“The CSG industry is a massive user of water. The government estimates the industry will use 5400 gigalitres a year – around three times Australia’s entire domestic water use of 1870 gigalitres a year.

“On methane – studies indicate that around 4% of this highly potent greenhouse gas is lost through leakage. Then another 15% can seep into produced water – that’s why we see in [the documentary] Gasland people who can light the water from their taps.

“We call for a precautionary approach – we need the facts. Freeze the industry and hold a Royal Commission, the highest level of public enquiry – the public have a right to know.”

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10.45am A festive atmosphere meets the 200 people who have gathered at Wollongong Town Hall, with local musicians performing under yellow and black balloons as community members walk in.

The conference is welcomed by Aboriginal activists Mark Bloxsome and Lyle Davis. Bloxsome tells the conference: “Coal Seam Gas is the greatest environmental challenge in many years … water is the source of all life.”

Wollongong Mayor Gordon Bradbury opens the conference, as the conference acknowledges that Wollongong council provided the hall for free.

“This is about democracy,” Bradbury says. He outlines the council’s stance against CSG, calling on the state government to rule out CSG in Wollongong and in all water catchment areas.

“Nothing [is] more precious than water… everything seems to be up for grabs to miners… our country is not a mine to be sold off."

To a huge cheer, Bradbury says: "I am not against mining per se, but we also need to live sustainably."

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