BEN CUBBY August 23, 2012
Contamination concerns ... the Nepean River. Photo: Brendan Esposito
THE first coal seam gas production well approved under the O'Farrell government is being drilled by energy company AGL on the edge of Sydney, about 40 metres from the banks of the Nepean River.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority and Campbelltown City Council voiced concerns about water contamination during the planning process and the company's environmental assessment warned that ''deep aquifers could cross-contaminate shallow aquifers during drilling''.
The drilling was still approved by the Planning Assessment Commission and started two weeks ago near the Menangle Park Paceway, without a public consultation process.
AGL said the concerns voiced by the company's environmental consultants and the EPA were addressed during the planning negotiations.
''Independent sources have confirmed that there are no expected impacts to beneficial aquifers,'' a spokeswoman said. Evidence from other wells in the district suggests previous drilling had not damaged aquifers and the Planning Department had accepted this, she said.
The aquifers are underground bodies of water sandwiched between layers of sandstone and drilling through these layers to get to the gas can potentially fracture them, causing fresh and dirty water to mingle.
The company's spokeswoman claimed AGL had to push on, otherwise NSW could run out of gas.
''AGL currently supplies around 5 per cent of the state's gas supplies and is committed to delivering a reliable supply of gas for NSW families and businesses,'' she said. ''If no additional gas supplies can be obtained from interstate sources from 2016, then the state faces a potential supply shortage.''
The new well, which, unlike recently drilled test wells, is for full-scale commercial gas production, met fierce opposition from Campbelltown City Council, which said it could also lead to pollution of the Nepean River.
The plan also includes pits to store dirty water sucked up along with coal seam gas, to be placed next to the river, which periodically experiences major floods.
In a submission, it said the company's plan ''has not adequately addressed these impacts on the overall ecological health of the adjoining Nepean River, within a catchment context as well as the potential impacts on the downstream users of the river. This is unacceptable.''
The council voted for a moratorium on all coal seam gas drilling ''until conclusive evidence emerges that this practice does not damage groundwater''.
A NSW Greens MP, Jeremy Buckingham, said coal seam gas drilling should be prohibited in urban areas. ''After taking donations from AGL, the O'Farrell government has secretly approved a coal seam gas production well in western Sydney,'' he said.
''It is abysmal that there was no community consultation given the enormous public concern over air, water and noise pollution from coal seam gas.
''The company's own environmental assessment acknowledges drilling for coal seam gas could cross-contaminate aquifers, something the gas industry usually denies.''
Meanwhile, residents from Fullerton Cove near Newcastle were still blockading a separate coal seam gas test-drilling site last night.
The Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, said police were going to move in to stop protesters preventing drilling taking place. Five people were issued with fines, but about 50 people were still at the site stopping drilling activities.
Dart Energy intends to drill four wells there.