A new report from NSW's Chief Scientist and Engineer has endorsed the further development of the state's coal seam gas industry.
NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Mary O’Kane has released the Final Report of the Independent Review of Coal Seam Gas Activities in NSW which was commissioned in February 2013 by former state premier Barry O’Farrell.
The culminating report of the 19-month long independent review gives its backing to the further development of coal seam gas (CSG) resources in the state, claiming that any risks involved can be effectively managed as long as appropriate scientific and regulatory measures are adopted.
“Provided drilling is allowed only in areas where the geology and hydrogeology can be characterised adequately, and provided that appropriate engineering and scientific solutions are in place…the risks associated with CSG exploration and production can be managed,” said the report.
The report said that CSG extraction technologies have already reached a high level of maturity given the long-term development of the industry in North America, as well as their successful deployment for a number of years in Australia at sites including Camden in NSW.
The report further points out that Australia possesses a “strong track record” in water technology innovation and management, that should help deal with any concerns about the impact of CSG production upon water reserves.
According to the report new technologies currently under development should also serve to make CSG extraction safer and more efficient in future, pointing in particular to advances in data analysis and fusion technologies, visualisation technologies for the more rapid apprehension of available data, as well as sensor and monitoring technologies.
The report nonetheless states that considerable improves to industry practices and the regulatory environment are required in order to reduce risk in relation to CSG exploitation.
These include strengthened protections for landholders and local residents in impacted areas, including improved land valuation and compensation measures; the creation of a single Act applicable to all onshore subsurface resources except for water, and the assessment of environmental impacts by companies applying for CSG permits.
The report also calls for the establishment of a standing expert advisory body on CSG comprised of experts from a full range of relevant disciplines, in order to apprise the state government of the overall impact of CSG in NSW on an annual basis, new scientific and technological developments and the impacts of CSG activity on planning.
The proposals have failed to assuage the concerns of those worried about the impact of CSG development on the environment, however.
Greens spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said that the report if anything vindicates concerns about the risks posed by CSG extraction to both the environment and the health of local residents.
“It has found that it is likely to pollute ground water [and] surface water,” said Buckingham. “That’s what the community fighting coal seam gas has always said and the Chief Scientist’s Report is vindication for them.”