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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Campbelltown rally hears how Sydney's water catchments under threat from CSG

On Sunday around 300 residents rallied in Campbelltown in western Sydney and called on the NSW state government and Federal Government to protect drinking water and drinking water catchments, and for local communities to protect their farmland and water resources from Coal seam gas (CSG) development. Jess Moore from Stop CSG Illawarra spoke passionately and outlined the campaign to stop coal seam gas mining in Sydney's water catchments and the threat it poses to the millions of people who live in greater Sydney area. Here is her speech with transcription.

The meeting also heard from several other speakers, including Campbelltown City councillor Fred Borg who said "If it is not safe, it's not safe. We say here today stop coal seam gas. If it is not safe in Campbelltown or Macarthur, it's not safe anywhere else. In NSW, nor for that matter in Australia." Watch on youtube.

Transcription of speech by Jess Moore from Stop CSG Illawarra

"We've been fighting to stop the development of coal seam gas across the upper Nepean and Woronora drinking water catchments."

"The drinking water for over 60% of people in New South Wales comes from land that covers less than 2% of New South Wales. So some people would say that 2% of land is pretty damned important.

Now that land is so important that if I walk there I can be fined up to $44,000. It is so protected that I can be fined up to $44,000 just for setting foot there. These are the Sydney catchment Authority special areas.

Now at the same time as I'm told I can't walk there, because it is so protected, coal seam gas companies have been given license to drill in these areas. They have been given permission to drill in these areas.

There is already a well that has been drilled in the Warragamba catchment area. In 2009 and 2011, a combination of those two times, a further 11 wells were approved to be drilled in the Woronora and upper Nepean drinking water catchments.

Now neither state nor Federal Governments have legislation in place to protect these areas. Seems pretty silly. I can't believe I'm up here saying this. This incredibly precious land neither Federal or state governments will protect it from coal seam gas.

Before the election Barry O'Farrell promised the next National/Liberal Government would ensure that mining cannot occurr in any water catchment area. And that mining leases and mining exploration licenses would reflect that common sense. No Ifs, no buts, a guarantee. Those were his words.

He promised us that these areas would be protected. Since he has made that promise he has renewed 3 licenses across drinking catchment areas. He has approved a well in the Warragamba catchment area. His Government has approved a well in the Upper Nepean catchment area.

The Federal Government, last week, made an announcement. This announcement came from Tony Burke that the Federal Government would now protect our water resources. Now I'm sure like many of you I gave a huge sigh of relief. That's great. The Federal Government is going to step in. They are going to protect our water resources.

But now we see the changes to the Act, and they don't do that. Drinking water catchments don't even get a mention. Exactly what would be considered damage is not defined under the Act. It is an incredibly general statement about the protection of water resources federally that isn't going to protect us. In fact, it relies on companies to report that they will do damage in order for it to be referred to the Act. Companies have got to say we will do significant damage to water resources and on that basis the Government will look into it.

It also makes the Environment Minister, a single Minister, responsible for the decision. Sure, they have to take advice into consideration, advice from the Independent scientific expert committee, but it is just advice for consideration. Even if that committee finds it is going to cause significant damage to water resources, the Minister might so, "No that's okay. I think it's fine. It can go ahead."

So none of this ensures protection of our water resources.

Now the reality of the situation, right now, is that the Illawarra project is at a standstill. But it won't stay that way. So in 2009 a 15 well coal seam gas project was approved for the Illawarra. In that project 10 of those wells are in special areas, that 2% of land that provides drinking water to 60% of people in NSW.

The campaign kicked off to stop it. The campaign in the Illawarra has been so successful that to date it has managed to prevent drilling of any one of those wells.

Subsequently, from our State government who promised us it would be banned, these would become no-go areas for coal seam gas development, we've had an overhaul of the board of the Sydney Catchment. So for the first time in it's history that board does not have a single health expert and it is headed by a former mining executive. That is how the board has been rejigged.

We've had licenses re-approved over catchment areas. Worse still, there are five major catchments in Sydney's speacial catchment areas. All five are either encroached upon or covered by exploration licenses. That is still the case. This Government has renewed 3 of those licenses in the last 6 months.

At this stage the decision on the 16 wells in the Illawarra has gone back to the Planning and Assessment Commission. We managed to delay drilling past drilling deadlines. that means they went 3 years without being able to drill and so it had to go back to the Planning and Assessment Commission. Ridiculously, still under Part 3A, that legislation we are told was repealed. That's where this decision is being made.

This community is in limbo, because we are waiting for these experts to make a decision on whether this company, these incredibly under-resourced companies Apex Energy and Magnum Gas and Power - the two smallest CSG companies in Australia - so they can drill in our drinking water catchment.

This is incredibly frightening. The Argument that the Government gave - the government has recommended approval so it is clear the decision lies with the Commission. The Government recommended re-approval because they said "The company has already done the assessment, they said it was safe, so we know it is safe, so just re-approve it." That is what the Government is saying about this project.

We've got this Commission. One of the two commissioners actually works for the industry. His company, the company he heads, actually does work for AGL, one of the biggest coal seam gas companies in the state. Now if that is not a conflict of interest, I don't know what is. But we were told it is fine. he should be there. He should be one of the two decision-makers deciding whether coal seam gas mining can go ahead in our drinking water catchment again.

It has gone way past when they should have made a decision. It usually takes a couple of weeks and it has been over a month and we are still waiting. But I guess the key thing to say is that this community in the Illawarrra is resolved to stop it.

Now just to talk about the particular threat posed by coal seam gas mining in our drinking water catchment. Coal seam gas mining always involves drawing contaminated water out of the ground. It always involves drawing water high in salt, high in methane, it can contain toxic and radioactive compounds and heavy metals. That means drawing that water out of the ground in our drinking water catchment.

It means taking toxins into our drinking water catchment to help with the drilling and to pump those toxins into the ground in our drinking water catchment.

Coal Seam Gas mining always involves leaking methane, which is a frightening thing in and of itself, but it is also frightening in that this project has been approved in an area where there has previously been a major bush fire every year. That is where we are going to put leaking gas wells. In fact we have actually got a photo of one of the proposed sites: A streamer in a tree. And then we took a photo a bit later and that photo showed a bushfire tearing through a proposed CSG site. An enormous risk for people of the Illawarra.

There is also enormous existing damage to the catchment that has been caused by longwall coal mining. So this proposal is being layered on top of enormous damage. But of course the government doesn't say they need to factor in cumulative impacts. They are just looking at the coal seam gas wells.

It is also a hugely unstable area. We have had huge landslips in the Illawarra and the communities all live below this escarpment. This unstable escarpment they are going to drill into. They are actually saying they are not going to frack. They are going to do something called zero radius drilling, which is another word for fracking. But they are going to stimulate the ground. The entire community in the Illawarra lives below that ground.

Now the campaign in the Illawarra has been enormous. It has been an incredible thing to be a part of. We have had 3 rallies of over 3,000 people. We have collected tens of thousands of signatures. We have been going door to door asking people in suburbs whether or not they want to see coal seam gas banned in our suburbs, banned in our drinking water catchments and we have had figures of 96%, 97% of residents wanting to see a ban in the catchments. So this is a community resolved to stop this.

We have vowed to blockade. That is not a decision we take lightly. We have done everything the Government has told us we have to do to stop this, and we are left with no choice. If the Planning and Assessment Commission comes back with a decision to approve, our community must blockade.

We have been forced to take on our own Government to do an incredibly simple thing. I'm sure that so many of you here thought that before you got involved in this campaign, you wouldn't have to fight your own government to get your drinking water protected. But that is the situation we are in.

The main thing I want to say today is that this isn't just a fight for the people of the Illawarra, this is the drinking water for the people of greater Sydney. This is the drinking water supply for over two thirds of people in New south Wales. And this message has to go to those two thirds of people.

It can't just be a campaign in the Illawarra, it can't just be the people of the Illawarra protecting the drinking water supply for the people of greater Sydney, we need Sydney mobilised in this fight. We need you on our blockade. We need you on the streets talking to people because this is a fight for all of our drinking water.

Thankyou so much."

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