On December 19th I joined several hundred other inner Sydney residents to protest against the state government’s plan to drill for coal seam gas in St Peters. While the Greens have long been fighting to prevent this most insidious form of mining on prime agricultural land on the Liverpool Plains we were as shocked as the rest of the community when we found that exploratory work for a new mining site had begun in suburban Sydney.
We were surprised because the exploration was approved in secret by the government – not even the Council whose Local Government Area it took place in or the surrounding residents were informed. Had someone wanted to do something as simple as add an extension to their house they would have been required to put an application in to Council, who would put the plans on public exhibition before making a decision. However a licence for mining exploration of this sort is approved behind closed doors by the NSW Department of Industry and Investment – they don’t even consult with the Environmental Protection Authority.
This is of particular concern as the full environmental effects of coal seam gas drilling are as yet unknown. Quite often a process called fracking is required to liberate the gas from the coal seam – a process whereby sand, water and a range of chemicals (some of which are kept secret by the mining companies) are injected into the ground to cause a mini earthquake.
The effects of some of the chemicals used in this process are not fully understood, but it is suspected that they may pose a serious risk of contamination to groundwater supplies. The gas drilling site is close to water supply pipes from the desalination plant and this has made many people very nervous.
In response to the unknown risks the United States Environmental Protection Agency is currently undertaking a long term investigation into what effect the chemicals can have on the environment and human health and the Queensland government has recently legislated to ban a number of the chemicals used in the process. However the NSW Government continues to push ahead.
Thankfully, the day after the rally the NSW government announced that it would consider a ban on many of the same toxic chemicals that have been banned in Queensland. There is as yet no solid commitment in the government’s statement and their record on environmental matters is far from impressive but at least this shows that they know this is a matter of concern to the community and that we will be watching them now and as the state election approaches.