Mike Baird’s CSG licence buy-back raises questions

March 13, 2015
Nicole McGregor.

The NSW government’s decision to buy back coal seam gas (CSG) licences in the upper Hunter just before a state election raises more questions than it answers.

Its buy-back of two licences belonging to Pangea Exploration in the upper Hunter (PEL 476), covering more than 1 million hectares, a few weeks ago is welcome. However, because the buy-back surrounds the contentious PEL that Mike Baird’s government approved around Gloucester, it smacks of deceit.

If the NSW government were serious about protecting land and water, why hasn't it cancelled the licence covering Gloucester, or the licences in the Northern Rivers, where CSG mining has been consistently opposed for years? Despite a huge campaign protect land and water in the Northern Rivers, Metgasco's contentious PEL has been only suspended, not cancelled.

The government's decision to cancel some CSG licences just weeks from the election means two things: community pressure against CSG mining is growing, and the Baird government is desperately trying to win back support from farmers and those living in regional areas.

The fact that the government has been forced to act on CSG is a tribute to the groundswell of opposition to the industry. Reducing the land area covered by licences (from 85% of NSW under the Labor government to 15%) is due to massive community pressure.

But with an election looming — and the Nationals in big trouble — these licence cancellations are also a cynical vote buying exercise. The Nationals have been very slow in supporting regional people’s opposition to expanding coal and CSG mining.

If the government had truly had a change of heart, it would not have announced two more mines for the upper Hunter area.

Bulga residents — about 350-strong — are now fighting for their right to live in their village — one of the serious proposals from the Planning Assessment Commission was to move the whole village. Clearly they are more concerned with Coal & Allied’s plans to expand operations at Mount Thorley-Warkworth.

Closer to Stroud, Duralie Coal employs about 20 people. Clearly it hasn’t brought many benefits to the town.

Duralie Coal's impact is a hidden one. Now, in a very dry period, the river is badly affected. Before the mine, the river could sustain a pretty decent flow — even in the dry. Now, there are places where the river stops.

Rivers SOS has documented evidence of the devastating impact of the mine on the river, including the company cementing and capping a small creek that had a natural spring that used to flow into Mammy Johnson's River.

There are the times when the smell of sulphur in the river water is so strong, farmers dare not let their livestock drink it. But if they complain to the company, they get the “it's always been like that” response.

Duralie is not supposed to empty its dirty dam water into the river. But Rivers SOS has collected evidence from oyster farmers at Karuah — where the Karuah River runs into Port Stephens — whose crops and livelihoods have been affected.

Politicians who support these industries need to be held to account.

[Nicole McGregor is a farmer from Stroud, who is standing for the Socialist Alliance in the Legislative Council in the NSW state election.]

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