As AGL announced a $400 million loss on August 10, anti-gas protesters assembled outside its headquarters to demand it close its Camden coal seam gas (CSG) project in south-west Sydney.
AGL, which largely invests in coal, has been producing gas in the Macarthur region since 2009, taking over from Sydney Gas Limited, which started in Camden in 2001 and expanded south east in 2004.
Camden is AGL's only major CSG production project in New South Wales, supplying 5% of the state's gas. In 2013, after sustained pressure and a depressed gas market, AGL announced it would not expand its Camden operation.
In February, it announced it was pulling out of its controversial Gloucester gas project, due to the “volatility of commodity prices and long development lead times”. It took advantage of the state government's generous buy-back scheme for gas exploration licences and cashed in its Gloucester licence.
Camden locals want AGL to close down its 90 wells for other reasons. Melinda Wilson from Australian Mothers Against Gas is concerned about the gas wells' impacts on health, particularly children's health.
“Families, including young children, are losing their hair and have chronic headaches and hay fever-like symptoms. Children have frequent, severe nose bleeds”, she said.
Wilson is worried that the state government's push to make the south west Sydney's new “growth” region — alongside the gas wells — will bring new health problems. Premier Mike Baird is encouraging the construction of 35,000 new homes — some of which are only 20 metres from CSG producing wells.
NSW prohibits wells from being built closer than 2 kilometres from homes, but that exclusion zone does not apply to CSG wells that have already been approved.
Wilson says that Baird is being reckless and irresponsible: he opened a new school in Spring Farm on August 8, an area where a lot of health problems have surfaced.
“Families are choosing south-west Sydney to raise their children but the Premier does not care if those new homes, built just metres from coal seam gas wells, will result in those families becoming sick,” she said.
Wilson, along with the Knitting Nannas and other concerned groups, have not been pacified by AGL's announcement that it would leave Camden in 2023, several years earlier than first planned.
“This is not acceptable. AGL has to go now”, she said.
Wilson said that AGL refuses to meet with residents or take on board their concerns. Australian Mothers Against Gas has collected 10,000 signatures on petitions urging AGL to close its Camden operation. But the company refuses to accept them.
“AGL has also refused to give us a schedule of when the wells will be decommissioned. And it hasn't responded to our request for information on which chemicals were leaked into the Nepean River during the recent flooding when some of the wells were submerged.”
Ironically, AGL, which is Australia's largest emitter of fossil fuels is blaming climate change for its financial woes.
[Several groups are organising to protest outside AGL's AGM on September 28 in Sydney's CBD to demand it close its Camden CSG operations. To get involved email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.]