Robertson calls for halt on new coal seam gas licences

Press pause ... Opposition leader John Robertson says further licences should not be issued until an
Press pause ... Opposition leader John Robertson says further licences should not be issued until an "ultra-tight regulatory framework" is established.

THE Opposition Leader, John Robertson, is calling for the suspension of the issuing of any new coal seam gas exploration licences in NSW, including expansion of current operations, while an ''ultra-tight regulatory framework'' is established.

Mr Robertson said a levy could be placed on industry to pay for ''independent scientific research of the effects of coal seam gas mining''.

''Coal seam gas has the potential to damage our drinking water and compromise food security,'' he said.

''Until there is a scientific consensus that coal seam gas mining will not damage aquifers and ground water systems, we need to hit the pause button.''

The Nationals issued a set of core principles last week that will guide its coal seam gas mining policies, including a caveat that drilling operations must be ''proven safe for the environment''.

It comes as the industry heard what the peak coal seam gas association's chairman described as a ''sobering'' message about a backlash against drilling across parts of eastern Australia.

At the environment conference of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, delegates were again warned that the growth of broad-based protest groups, connected by social media, would increasingly threaten coal seam gas expansion.

''Do we want to take on the farmers' wives of Australia?'' asked keynote speaker Wendy Sarkissian, a consultant and fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia.

''There is a range of people from very different political persuasions. Now all the farmers' wives are coming out in Kyogle, they are a force to be reckoned with.''

Based on global study of other conflicts between residents and industries, coal seam gas companies had to revise their plans and build networks of well-informed people who could have input into drilling plans, Dr Sarkissian said.

Many communities believed the industry was guilty of ''secrecy and bullying'' and predicted an escalation of disputes unless companies became much more open and receptive to opponents, she said.

''The economic forces which you understand well and manipulate will work to your advantage. But it will end, as my dad used to say, in tears,'' she said.

The association's chairman, Eric Streitberg, said it was a sobering message.

''Most of our companies are very technical in focus, and we are not as used to dealing with the social and community situations,'' he said in response to Dr Sarkissian's address.

''But I think we have the people and the passion in our companies to try and work through this.''

The conference also heard examples of gas developments that had successfully met environmental requirements, and in which some protest groups had been won over.

Chevron Australia's environment manager, Russell Lagdon, said the impact of a massive new gas port on Barrow Island, off Western Australia, had shown it was possible to develop resources projects in sensitive places without major environmental harm.

''Two years into the project, the impacts on turtles were much less than the initial assessment had anticipated,'' Mr Lagdon said.

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