CSG, new coal mines front and centre in New South Wales elections

Intro

Coal seam gas (CSG) and coal mine plans are becoming major issues in the upcoming New South Wales election on 28 March, as the State Government cancels a string of CSG exploration licenses and delays decisions on controversial new coal mines until after the election. The issues are becoming battles in marginal seats across the state as politicians rush to placate the locals in the face of growing resistance to coal and gas projects. The Government’s “Gas Plan” includes a freeze on processing applications for new CSG exploration licenses, and cancelling dozens of licences for CSG companies, but they’re largely not in areas with major CSG resources. Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley has promised a state-wide moratorium on CSG (although it granted many of the licences now being revoked) and a full ban in the Northern Rivers region and drinking water catchments, while the Greens want a complete and permanent ban on CSG.  The expansion of coal has been called a “dangerous” political issue, with former NSW Governor Dame Marie Bashir the latest to join the call to save farmland from coal mines.  Battle lines are also being drawn over a $1.2 billion coal mine proposal by China’s Shenhua Watermark Coal, on the edge of the Liverpool plains, threatening the seat of a Nationals MP. The mine has kicked off the “water trigger rule”, causing Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to “stop the clock” on the decision. The controversial Wallarah 2 coal mine that the previous NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell promised to stop before the last election, and which Labor has promised now to prevent, has now gained preliminary approval from the Planning Advisory Commission (PAC), but protests are also gearing up there.  The PAC has also approved the extension of a Rio Tinto coal mine in the Hunter Valley, recommending that the entire village of Bulga be relocated. The villagers have responded with a peaceful resistance pledge that has already been signed by more than 2,000 people.  Late last month, a new report put the annual health costs caused by pollution from the Hunter Valley’s five coal-fired power stations and fine particle pollution from the region’s coal mines at more than $600million a year.  Meanwhile, protests continue across the state, with activists continuing to block the forest clearance at the Maules Creek Mine, with more than 40 people arrested in the three week window the company has to clear the forest. A GetUp survey in Manly has shown 96 percent opposition to the expansion of coal or GSG in NSW.

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RT @p_hannam: #CSG stance leaves Nationals vulnerable in the NSW bush http://t.co/WeyDWdHxpA #nswvotes #nswpol http://t.co/q6hdwKKfcA

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Key Points

Ahead of the March 28 elections, sensing the public opposition to Coal Seam Gas (GSC) exploration, the NSW Government is revoking exploration licences, but its move has been greeted with cyncism by many who say the revoked licenses are not for “active” areas with known resources. The Government’s “Gas Plan” includes a freeze on processing applications for new CSG exploration licenses, but the cancelled licences are largely not in areas with major CSG resources. The plan does not address areas with licences already in place where new gas exploration and production is actually threatened.The latest Government acquisition under its cancellations is a licence held by AGL, covering almost 400sqkm, including two electorates currently held by liberal MP’s who are not standing in the upcoming election after after allegations made at the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into politician’s donations.

Huge new coal plans are in train for New South Wales, with thousands of people having already pledged to fight Rio Tinto’s planned expansion of its Mount Thorley-Warkworth mine extension after the PAC recommended 350 residents in the nearby town of Bulga be relocated entirely.  Meanwhile, an unpublished Office of Environment and Heritage assessment shows that 11 companies have plans by for 16 more coal mines in the the Hunter Valley, covering up to 45,000 ha of prime agricultural land, and have each paid $93,000 towards the assessment.  The projects, if were to all go ahead, would increase NSW coal production by 60%.  On the Central Coast, the PAC has given preliminary approved a proposal for the Wallarah 2 longwall coal mine at Wyong, also described as a “gamechanger” in the coming elections.  Protests continue at Maules creek, where Whitehaven Coal is in the middle of a three-week forest clearing window to make way for a new mine.

Meanwhile, a report by Climate and Health Alliance has released a report showing the annual costs of associated health damages from the five coal-fired power stations in the Hunter Valley at around $600 million a year.  The burden of health damages on one town alone – Singleton – is estimated at $47 million a year from exposure to fine particles emitted from mines and coal-fired power stations.

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Key quotes

  • There is a conga line of small players cashing out of the coal seam gas game. It’s clear the industry has no future in NSW, so they are taking handfuls of taxpayers’ money on the way out the door. With public opinion set against coal seam gas and the oil price in the doldrums the licenses being cancelled by the government are essentially worthless. The areas being cancelled are also where CSG is least advanced and least likely to be developed. This is a pre-election taxpayer funded bailout of small gas companies, while the government paves the way for Santos and AGL to develop their toxic gas fields.” NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.
  • “Digging up precious farm land for coal … we’re expected to be leaving the burning of fossil fuels behind because of the environment. This is surely contradictory… I couldn’t be more passionate about a cause than this one. We must do something to protect our food producing land…We’ve all got to take this message to all whom we know. This is, in a sense, a crisis, disguised though it is. The sale of our farmland, and the destruction of our farmland, must stop. And that is my feeling, and I have never been so emphatic or political in my life.” Former NSW Governor Dame Marie Bashir
  • “Risks from water quality, impacts on health from noise and light pollution, from mines working 24/7 and also the psychological toll associated with the stress of having your land acquired by a mine project…. in addition to banning new coal and issuing no new coal licences that there be a very strong investment in helping the Hunter to transition to renewable energy. We already have other industries flourishing in the Hunter, vineyards, thoroughbred breeding and farming, and there’s an opportunity to develop new industries as well.” Climate and Health Alliance convenor Fiona Armstrong.
  • “I’ve been in Bulga all my life, I haven’t bloody blown in for bloody work. We used to use small gear and noise would never be a problem but now we’ve got to endure dust and noise every day for years, apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day.I can’t sit out in my backyard and enjoy a beer because of the noise. The dust is a shocker, I can’t filter it out of my pool. Yesterday, we couldn’t even see the hills because of the dust. If this process gets the green light, we are resigned to moving. I love my place here, I built it to stay here for the next generations but it’s being destroyed. When they blow the rocks up, the ground movement is like living in bloody Christchurch or something.” Bulga resident and miner, Paul Harris
  • “This will not be the end. This farming community has fought hard for the last nine years. We fought a blockade for 620 days against BHP when they first came here, and we won. It was the best thing that ever happened to the community. If you’ve seen the blockades of [coalmines] at Maules Creek and the Pilliga state forest, you’ve seen nothing compared to what’ll happen on the Liverpool Plains.” Liverpool Plains farmer Andrew Pursehouse on the Shenhua Watermark mine.
  • “This is a cynical and tokenistic attempt by the Liberal-National government to look like they are doing something on this issue when they could have acted decisively long ago by refusing to renew the Metgasco and Igas licences that were quietly renewed despite repeated calls from the community for their cancellation. The communities of this region are not stupid and will not be deceived by this latest gimmick from the government. They are angry that our local Nationals MP’s have the audacity to repeatedly ignore the community’s wishes over many years only to mock them with token actions at election time.” Gasfield Free Northern Rivers spokesperson Elly Bird.

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More tweets

  • RT @LockTheGate: Denial: NSW Minerals Cncl launch political ads targeting jobs despite plummeting #coal prices. No transition plan #nswvotes
  • RT @maxphillips: NSW state election 2015: Coal seam gas mining opens Nationals to challenge in country #nswpol http://t.co/YxCXCzEzcl
  • RT @Damo_Q: The day of no new or expndd NSW coal mines is approaching. Who will move first Lib or Lab?http://t.co/miNPrZDZzI #auspol #nswpol
  • RT @drnaomi: “I have never been so emphatic and political in my life”- Dame Marie Bashir, on coal mines on farmland. http://t.co/FY9CSWGSxH
  • RT @virgotweet: NSW Premier Mike Baird plays the coal mining exaggeration game https://t.co/Izz9oRmMK3 @IndependentAus
  • MT @RobinMosman: Battle for #LiverpoolPlains Chinese coal project tears at fabric of rural NSW http://t.co/R4gQdvfbdL #NSWvotes #auspol