It’s the year 2018 and we are still here debating the merits and impacts of coals seam gas on farmland. This; after having marched on Parliament in 2012. Granted, there have been a number of developments since then, but a recent community meeting in Coonamble demonstrates that years later we still seem to be at the same impasse.
CWA policy on this matter is clear and unequivocal. After years of calling for moratoriums, increased regulation and better information, our members clearly told us at our conference last year that that enough was enough. The CWA of NSW supports a ban on unconventional gas exploration, extraction and production.
It’s a pretty strong statement and one that reflects the temperature of the broader rural community on this issue. Clearly, rural communities need more information, and more respect when it comes to matters impacting their land and water resources.
CWA of NSW recently weighed into some of the local matters in Coonamble. There were a series of land access and compliance issues in relation to an Authority to Survey the pipeline for the proposed Narrabri Gas Project. Our reply from the Minister came some two months after first writing, and in my opinion, really amounted to nothing more than a pat on the head. This isn’t going to cut it. Not for us, not for our members, and certainly not for the people and communities who may be directly impacted by such a project. It would seem that the lessons from past bungling on this matter have not been heeded at all.
Of course the benefits of bringing industry and jobs to rural towns is acknowledged and not taken lightly. It’s very rare these days to be able to get large opportunities for jobs in the areas we live. We want our kids to be able to stay close by and have a great life in the regions if they so choose. That said, it is precisely for our kids that we need answers to questions about the safety of the industry that we are not getting. Perhaps that is because the answers are not there?
Apart from the obvious concerns, around potential damage to water and land, there are other legitimate concerns. Will property values decrease? Will this affect the equity situation of landholders? Will there be impacts on their ability to get finance and insurance coverage? What will the continuing impacts on communities and their social fabric be? Where are the comprehensive health impact assessments, including impacts on mental health?
There was momentum at one point to try to address many of these issues. The chief scientists review of the industry and associated recommendations were a good step forward. There are however, still many of her recommendations that have not been heeded, or alternatively, addressed in a half-hearted way.
Leading into an election year, it would be a mistake to think that this will not be a hot button issue yet again.
- Annette Turner is NSW CWA state president.