Newcastle residents not happy with coal seam gas

October 7, 2011
Dart energy has a licence to drill for coal seam gas in a 2000 square kilometre area (in pink) that includes suburban Newcastle.

Just about every passerby stopped at a recent Green Left Weekly stall in Hamilton, Newcastle, to sign a Lock the Gate Alliance petition for a moratorium on coal seam gas (CSG) mining.

All those who stopped were concerned about plans to mine CSG at nearby Fullerton Cove.

The Newcastle Herald reported on a recent community consultation held by Dart Energy, where Fullerton Cove residents’ spokesperson Sue Walker said: “The environmental concerns over the water table, salinity, subsidence — regardless of what Dart says — remain real, but on top of that, if they end up building a spider’s web of drilling rigs out behind our houses, we won’t able to live in them and nobody is going to want to buy them.”

One online comment on the article asked: “Why does Dart think only Fullerton Cove residents would be concerned about this drilling? It has the potential to affect everyone accessing Hunter Water reserves if it is a threat to the Tomago Sandbeds.

“They [Dart Energy] should be holding meetings in Newcastle and Maitland as well — not expecting people from Swansea to travel to Williamtown.”

The Herald reported that Dart Energy Australia chief executive Robbert de Weijer said the Fullerton Cove drilling was a small “test appraisal program” and that commercial drilling would be “a number of years away”, and then only after “community consultation, public scrutiny and government approvals”.

The Dart website purports to address “myths” about CSG.

Unfortunately it does not list what these myths are, nor provide any evidence of their existence.

In giving an overview of CSG, the website repeatedly claims CSG is “natural” gas. First it describes CSG as “simply natural gas extracted at low pressure from coal”. Then it states that “as an end-use product” CSG is the same as natural gas.

A third repetition declares that “the only difference between CSG and natural gas is in the way that it is formed by nature. CSG is composed predominantly of methane and small percentages of nitrogen and carbon dioxide.”

Digging deeper into the site, it seems there is an intent to portray the amount of water made toxic by CSG mining as minimal. It advises “the volume and quality of water produced during CSG at this stage varies greatly between areas”.

It adds “typical water volumes in the NSW are significantly lower than other CSG areas such as Queensland”. It does not provide any facts or explain the significance of this.

Just how “typical” these volumes of water are at Fullerton Cove, and how they vary in the surrounding 2000 square kilometres (stretching from Belmont in the south to Myall Lakes in the north) remains a mystery.

The website claims that its community consultations are “about being open and honest ... about our activities”. However, it does not supply any local contact details.

It claims: “If you agree to let Dart operate on your land, we will negotiate a land access and compensation agreement with you.” It does not say if Dart will accept a blanket refusal.

The CSG companies are unlikely to simply go away. Dart cites a CSIRO estimate that “CSG resources in QLD and NSW are in excess of 250 trillion cubic feet, enough energy to power both states for 400 years at current demand ... [and] gas demand in NSW is expected to triple over the next 20 years”.

People in Newcastle are not satisfied with Dart Energy’s so-called public consultation. Many will come to the Newcastle protest on October 14 at Foreshore Park, part of national protests against CSG.

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