Coal seam gas (CSG) is shaping up to be one of the key issues in the NSW election, with both major parties promising increasing restrictions on the industry.
The naturally occurring gas found in coal seams is typically extracted through drilling or hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking.
Protests have been held across the state in opposition to the practice, but what are the major parties offering to placate voters?
The Liberal Party
The NSW Liberals, led by Premier Mike Baird, has pledged to freeze all new CSG license applications as part of the party’s Gas Plan.
The party’s plan, issued in November 2014, also vowed to:
- Protect all national parks and urban residential zones
- Adopt all the recommendations put forward by the NSW Chief Scientist
- “Extinguish” pending license applications, applications fees which were increased from $1000 to $50,000
While in government, the Liberals also established the Office of Coal Seam Gas and a series of Codes of Practises for the process.
Anthony Robertson, the Liberal Minister for Resources and Energy, said the party had put in place more than 60 reforms for the gas industry since March 2011.
“The Government recognises there is still more work to do,” he said.
“That is why we released the Gas Plan in November 2014. It provides a clear direction on how a re-elected Baird Government will deliver world’s best practice regulation for the gas industry.”
Despite the outlined restrictions, Mr Baird has told voters that CSG will “remain a big part of the economy”.
The Labor Party
Labor has proposed a moratorium on CSG across the state.
According to party policy, the freeze won’t be lifted until “the industry is proven to be safe, until we have mapped the aquifers and until we understand the impacts”.
Labor has also pledged to:
- Ban unconventional gas wells or drilling within 2 kilometres of urban or residential areas
- Ban CSG and unconventional gas in the Northern Rivers of NSW, covering seven local government areas
- Impose a 2 kilometre exclusion zone around all national parks and wetlands
Labor has also vowed to protect gas prices by advocating for a national gas reservation policy and rule out CSG in defined no-go zones, including defined water catchment areas, the Northern Rivers of NSW and key areas such as national parks.
One such area is the Pilliga Forest, west of Tamworth in northern central NSW.
Labor leader Luke Foley said the area is a crucial recharge zone for the Great Artesian Basin, adding that voters had made their opposition to fracking clear.
“The risks CSG poses to the natural assets of the Pilliga, particularly the underground water storages, are unacceptable,” he said.
“Labor believes in a prosperous future for NSW and one where we consider the health of our communities and our environment.”
The Greens have vowed to oppose all CSG exploration and production, as well as associated pipeline and export infrastructure developments.
The party also supports:
- An immediate freeze on new exploration and production licences
- A special Commission of Inquiry into the impact of the CSG industry
- The tough penalties for breaches of consent requirements for operators
The Greens are also calling for the full disclosure of fossil fuel industry, including the ownership details for involved companies and any political donations associated with the organisations.
The party’s state spokesman for mining Jeremy Buckingham has called for a complete ban on CSG, criticising policies by both the Liberal and Labor parties.
“It’s time for Luke Foley and the Labor party to bite the bullet and ban coal seam gas across the entire state,” he said.
Voters and campaigners
Both parties have been campaigning hard in regional seats, though a ReachTEL survey shows that CSG is an issue for urban voters as well.
Working with 749 people in Premier Mike Baird’s Manly-based electorate on February 26, the survey found that 59.2 per cent of people were very concerned about the impact of expanding coal and gas mining on NSW farmlands, forests and water.
When broken down into party supporters, 49.8 per cent of Liberal voters surveyed were very concerned, as were 75.8 per cent of Labor supporters and 83.7 per cent of Greens voters.
The same survey found that 68.1 per cent of voters thought that the government wasn’t doing enough to protect farmlands, forests and water from CSG fracking.
Broken down into parties, 56.4 per cent of Liberal supporters surveyed believed the government wasn’t doing enough, as did 89.1 per cent of Labor voters and 88.9 per cent of Greens voters.
Vote compass data analysed by the ABC showed that of 42,000 respondents, 62 per cent agreed that coal seam gas extraction should be banned.
Similar to the results in Premier Baird’s electorate, 49 per cent of Coalition voters believed that CSG should be banned, along with 74 per cent of Labor voters and 83 per cent of Greens voters.
Georgina Woods from the Lock the Gate campaign said voters in regional NSW believe CSG is inherently risky and carried unwelcome “health risks”.
Ms Woods said polling conducted across Tamworth and Gloucester showed that 60 to 70 per cent of people were concerned about CSG.
“The NSW Government has failed to get in front of the industry and pose adequate restrictions on it,” she said.
“We oppose the CSG because it is inherently dangerous and risky, to health and to land.”
GetUp! has also been surveying voters in the lead up to the election.
Market Impact Director James Grugeon said while nine out of 10 people surveyed say they want clean energy, 90 per cent of NSW people were buying their energy from the three big companies who support CSG.
Mr Grugeon said the group had been campaigning to tell those companies, “if you continue to invest in CSG, your customers will leave you”.
With Rachel Hocking.