Outrage at plans to drill for gas under Sydney

Issue 

The big “greenwash” of gas as the new “green energy” isn’t going down well in inner-city Sydney.

On November 14, the Sydney Morning Herald revealed gas exploration would start within two months in the inner-city suburb of St Peters.

The article said said Macquarie Energy, which is owned by Apollo Gas, received state government permission for exploration in March. The community had been kept in the dark; even the Marrickville Council, which partly covers the area, knew nothing.

The response to this alarming news was quick and direct. The Greens, the Total Environment Centre, the Socialist Alliance and community groups in Tempe and St Peters all expressed anger at the secrecy surrounding major gas works being planned for residential areas.

They are calling for a full public inquiry and community consultation into the state government’s plans for coal seam gas extraction before any exploration proceeds.

Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown has called on federal environment minister Tony Burke to halt all approvals of coal seam gas projects. “If the government does not act, the Greens will introduce amendments to federal laws to ensure that coal seam gas projects do not proceed if criteria on levels of environmental and community impacts are not met”, he said on November 14.

There is also concern that hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”) wll be used. This is a method of extracting the gas from rock that uses sand, water, a concoction of known carcinogens (including kerosene, benzene, toluene, xylene, and formaldehyde) and heavy metals at high pressure. In the US, this method has been blamed for poisoning people and waterways.

The SMH said Apollo boss Andrew Mayo denied fracking would be involved, saying the company would use more up-to-date surface to in-seam drilling technology. But because of the secrecy surrounding the project, concerns remain.

The aim of the exploration is to find supplies for the City of Sydney’s trigeneration scheme — a network of gas-fired engines that Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore wants to replace energy taken from the coal-fired power grid. (See separate article.)

Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann has urged NSW Premier Kristina Keneally to immediately introduce a full moratorium on coal seam gas exploration and extraction in NSW. “The government must set tight environmental safeguards on the industry before projects are allowed to continue”, she said on November 15.

Faehrmann said it was clear from documents released under freedom of information that the NSW environment department had no role in the approval processes for coal seam gas exploratory drilling.

“Meanwhile, Industry & Investment NSW is rubber-stamping dozens of drilling operations without enough expertise and understanding of the process, particularly the highly controversial process of fracking”, Faehrmann said.

Meanwhile, the federal Labor government is rushing to embrace gas as its “green” energy alternative.

On May 17, the federal resources and energy minister Martin Ferguson described coal seam methane as not only the “emerging industry in which Australia is the world leader” but, with reserves of 100 years, “the next generation of our great petroleum industry”.

Simon Butler, environment activist and Socialist Alliance upper house candidate in the state elections, said: “Fossil fuels are not ‘great’ and gas is neither renewable nor sustainable.”

“We need massive public investment in renewables now. This is the only responsible course of action to take to avoid the catastrophe the climate scientists are warning us about.”

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