Exploration licences for coal seam gas mining (CSG) cover 75% of the land in New South Wales where people live. Residents are worried about the effect CSG mining could have on their land and water, and angry about the lack of consultation by the gas companies.
From the Northern Rivers around Lismore, to the north-west, down through the Northern Tablelands and through the Liverpool Plains, people have formed community groups to fight the threat of CSG by holding public meetings to inform their communities, organising rallies and petitions and in some cases refusing to allow gas companies onto their land.
In Lismore, 7000 people gathered on May 12 to demand that the entire region be declared CSG free and current mining licences revoked. This is part of a broader strategy being run by the CSG Free Northern Rivers group to consult with local communities about whether they want to declare their local area CSG free.
The idea started in The Channon where organisers surveyed every household with the proposal that all roads leading to the village be closed to CSG. Ninety-nine percent said yes.
Spokesperson Annie Kia told Green Left Weekly: “Since then the campaign has spread to neighbouring communities, with very similar results. Once the majority of people from a road declare themselves CSG-free, they are encouraged to put up road signs to show it. This strategy sends a clear message to government that this industry has no social licence.”
There are about 20 anti-CSG groups now active in the Northern Rivers and 84 roads have been declared CSG-free. Campaigners are also training residents in non-violent direct action to ensure that protesters are effective and skillful. “We will resist efforts by the gas industry to start work in the locality,” Kia said.
Inland in northern NSW, the Armidale Action Against Coal Seam Gas group was set up last August after a screening of the film Gasland.
It focuses on supporting the campaign to stop CSG mining in the Pilliga in north-west NSW and prevent CSG mining in Armidale.
Bea Bleile from the group told GLW: “There is an application for CSG that covers the whole of the Northern Tablelands and there has been no community consultation about it.”
Two hundred people attended a public forum on CSG on May 7 in the Armidale town hall, which called on the NSW state government to protect productive agricultural land and high biodiversity areas from coal seam gas mining and exploration; protect the Great Artesian Basin and other underground water resources from being polluted by coal seam gas mining and exploration; and implement a moratorium on all coal seam gas mining and exploration until all scientific uncertainties have been resolved.
Armidale Action Against CSG is also concerned about other forms of mining, such as the expansion of an open cut coalmine proposed for Boggabri.
In north-west NSW, CSG companies have been approaching landholders since 2010 to allow drilling on their land.
Penny Blatchford, who owns a farm between Narrabri and Moree, said that farmers started to get organised last May.
“The government says the licences are in place and there’s no point arguing,” she told GLW. “But I wasn’t comfortable with that so I went through the legislation. My concern is that the soil type here is highly erodible and it can’t withstand CSG infrastructure, it will break.”
The soils in the area are recognised for having high agricultural value and renowned for high agricultural output. “They haven’t done a proper assessment of the region to see if this industry can work in this environment. Farming and CSG cannot co-exist.”
Blatchford has presented NSW Energy and Resources Minister Chris Hartcher with signed objections to the renewal of Petroleum Exploration Licence 470 from every single landowner with property covered by the PEL and asking for no further licence to be granted over the area. She has received no response from the government.
Although the licence on her land has now expired, Blatchford said the campaign must continue. “Unless the NSW government withdraws the licence it still continues under Section 20. Nothing has changed.”
Asked about her opinion on the alliance between farmers and environmentalists, Blatchford said: “It's a natural fit. Farmers are environmentalists, even if they don’t want to admit it. If you don’t have a sustainable farm you won’t have a crop next year. Wreck the soil and you won’t grow wheat next year.”
Kia agreed: “It’s heartening and fantastic to see. The CSG free community strategy has resulted in a great community spirit being established. People are learning that they have things in common, that we all want to protect the land and water.”