Carrying signs such as "Coal seam gas stinks", "Gas mining under Sydney Park - no fracking way!", and "Gutless government giving in to gas", over 400 local residents and supporters rallied on December 19 at Sydney Park to protest the NSW government's secretive approval for exploratory drilling for coal seam gas (CSG) mining in the inner-western suburb of St Peters.
Local resident Glenda Jackson, who lives 200 metres from the exploration site, expressed fury at the lack of community consultation. The State Government gave approval for Macquarie Energy subsidary Apollo Gas to engage in CSG exploration without any consultation of residents or communities, without any examination by the government's own Department of Environment, and even the Sydney City and Marrickville Councils, which both border the location of the proposed gas exploration drilling, were kept in the dark. Jackson received her first "consultation letter" the day before the rally - nine months after the government had approved the drilling.
CSG mining, and particularly the controversial process of "fracking" to release the gas (pumping water, sand and chemicals into the earth to produce mini explosions to release gas), has been associated with numerous hazards, many of which have been highlighted by the release of independent US film "GasLand". The dangers include contamination of water supplies, irreversibly destroying soils, severe health effects, social disintegration, and maintaining fossil fuel usage rather than transitioning to renewable energy.
"The time for action is now - if we don't act, Australia will become a giant quarry", fifth generation farmer from the Liverpool Plains, Tim Duddy, told the rally. Duddy revealed that the battle in Sydney is similar to battles being waged in other parts of NSW and Australia. In Duddy's community, CSG mining endangers the most fertile agricultural land in New South Wales, threatening the state's food bowl. Duddy called for residents to stay strong, united and to build a broad community alliance to defeat the mining companies and their political backers.
Expressing rally-goer's fury at corporate interests being placed ahead of community needs, Kevin Evans, the Executive Officer of National Parks Association of NSW, told the rally "I'm angry because St Peters is not just another business opportunity, it's my home!" In the US, the process of fracking was pioneered by infamous corporation Halliburton.
Greens City of Sydney Councillor Chris Harris explained that the Greens are calling for an immediate moratorium on CSG mining and exploration, until its environmental, health and social effects are fully examined. He pledged that Greens Councillors would try to ensure that "not one kilogram" of CSG would be used in the council's plan to use Tri-Generation plants to power Sydney.
John Thompson from the Hunter Valley Protection Alliance described how people from winegrowers to farmers had become activists around CSG, not by choice but by necessity. Thompson told how CSG is "not regulated, not strategically planned, and mining companies are given a free reign to go where they want, when they want."
Thompson called for a movement to be built to turn the situation around, to where communities make the decisions.
"They say that mining is the most powerful institution in the country, but they are wrong," Thompson concluded. "The most powerful institution in the country is the people!"