Marrickville Council locks the gate on coal seam gas

Rally against CSG mining, May 1, Sydney. Photo: Peter Boyle

In a display of non-partisanship, Marrickville Council put the community first by voting unanimously to lock the gate on coal seam gas (CSG) mining on May 8.

Local stop coal seam gas activists urged councillors to prohibit a private waste disposal and recycling company — Alexandria Landfill — from being allowed to sub-contract its site in St Peters to a CSG miner for exploration and pilot drilling.

Louise Steer, the public officer for Stop CSG Sydney, told the council: “There is no way that the applicant can conduct a recycling operation on a coal seam gas well. Perhaps the owner, Mr [Ian] Malouf, was ignorant of the extent of the coal seam gas proposal and the extent of the impact it may have. But that was then.

“The fact that this is just ‘exploration’ is irrelevant. Dart Energy has already applied to the NSW government to have the approved ‘exploration’ well changed to pilot production. This means that the company considers the resource to be worth extracting.

“Once Dart Energy moves to a production licence, the owner of the site no longer has any effective say in the proposal. This also means that council will be shut out of determining how the land is used.”

I also addressed the council, pointing to the farmer-led rally of up to 8000 people on May 1 as the clearest example to date of just how broad and deep the concerns are about the CSG wing of the fossil fuel industry.

I said: “Even though the [CSG industry] has bi-partisan support, it has nevertheless failed to convince broad sections of the community that it is not a risk to our health and the environment.

“Marrickville needs a waste recycling centre, but it doesn’t need this waste centre to also be a hazardous waste centre.”

Activists said CSG mining potentially affects a far wider community than is usual for a normal development application — and with potentially dire consequences for community health and water supplies.

Marrickville resident Rosamund Gavin Dallow-Smith told the council: “We are not against mining, but we are concerned that the CSG industry is being given free rein despite the huge problems.”

Jactina Green, a spokesperson for Stop CSG Sydney, told Green Left Weekly that Dart Energy had informed the Stock Exchange of its intention to drill 10 wells by the end of this year. It also informed Stop CSG Sydney that it was 95% certain that the St Peters well would become a production well.

After some discussion, four Greens, three ALP and two independent councillors voted to prohibit CSG mining at the Dial a Dump site. They also voted to request the state government cancel Dart Energy’s licence.

The Stop CSG Sydney group formed when news of a deal between Dial-a-Dump and Dart (then Macquarie Energy) became public in 2010. The campaign now involves people from across the Sydney region. It has held several successful events, including rallies, information nights and film screenings.

St Peters is the first urban coal seam gas drill site in Australia. It is seven kilometres from the CBD, and right next to schools, pre-schools and homes.

Greens councillor Max Phillips’ motion to council read: “That mining or gas exploration or extraction activities be prohibited on the site due to proximity to residences, the safety and health risks associated with gas extraction and the uncertainty over the effect of coal seam gas extraction on the local environment and aquifers and the potential to further contaminate the land.”

Independent Councillor Dimitri Thanos then moved that council write to the NSW government and the City of Sydney to inform them of the council and community view on CSG, and to urge them to “take immediate action to preclude such activities”.

He said: “It’s an absolute disgrace that the two previous governments, and the owner of the site, are putting profits before the community … It’s a classic example where the public interest is being ignored.”

Steer told Green Left Weekly that council’s decision “effectively ends plans to conduct coal seam gas drilling or production in St Peters.

“This is because if the owner wants to contest the licence conditions, he will have to go to the Land and Environment Court because the environment law in Marrickville prohibits ‘extractive industries’ — which coal seam gas clearly is — in general industrial and light industrial zones.

“While coal seam gas is not mentioned in the Marrickville Local Environment Plan 2011, such mining clearly falls within the categories of ‘extractive industries’ and ‘offensive industries’.

“The reference in the LEP to ‘open cut mining’ reveals that the council acknowledges that mining is inappropriate use of industrial zones in Marrickville.”

A day after the council vote, a solicitor for Dial a Dump said the waste company did not have an agreement with Dart Energy to drill for CSG. Dart Energy then released a statement saying that “drilling will not be undertaken at St Peters”.

Stop CSG said in response that it welcomed the announcement, but would “not abandon their campaign until the well is completely off the table”. The group has asked the NSW government to formally revoke Dart Energy’s approval to mine for CSG at the site.

Stop CSG has also said the CSG industry poses a far wider threat to Australia’s drinking water and food security. Green said on May 10: “We have always been aware that this has been much bigger than a NIMBY issue.”

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