Gloucester Council hits out over AGL's fracking approvals

From the Gloucester Advocate:

GLOUCESTER Shire Council has called on the State government to retrospectively introduce a 2km setback for coal seam gas wells in the valley following the decision to approve AGL’s Waukivory Pilot Program.

Resources Minister Anthony Roberts approved AGL’s plans to frack four coal seam gas wells at Gloucester last Wednesday, along with a renewal of AGL’s Gloucester Petroleum Exploration Licence (PEL) 285 for six years.

Council said it was ‘frustrated and angry’ the Minister had renewed the licence and approved fracking in the valley.

It called on the State to follow the science and not allow fracking until the federal government’s bioregional assessment, AGL’s numerical model to enable assessment of water impacts and council’s water study coordination report were complete.

“Council acknowledges that the Waukivory Pilot is part of AGL’s research program, but has not been given compelling reasons as to why the test wells need to be located where now proposed,” deputy mayor Frank Hooke said.

“The State government affirms that the 2km setback it has mandated for new gas wells can not be applied retrospectively to AGL at Gloucester. 

“Yet in changing the Mining State Environmental Planning Policy they have shown that the rules can be retrospectively changed to get a better outcome for AGL.

“Given that the approval is not a consent to move into production and is ahead of the water study results, council believes the test wells should be set back the 2km now mandated by the government.” 

Mr Roberts said the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) granted an activity approval for the Waukivory Pilot and had approved AGL’s Fracture Stimulation Management Plan.

AGL’s managing director and chief executive officer Michael Fraser said the Waukivory Pilot was an important step in the development of the Gloucester Gas Project.

“We welcome these approvals from the NSW government,” he said.

“Stage one (of the Gloucester Gas Project) has already been through a full environmental assessment and received approval from the independent NSW Planning Assessment Commission. That approval was upheld by the Land and Environment Court. Stage one is also the subject of Commonwealth approval.”

The OCSG obtained advice from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), the Office of Environment and Heritage, the NSW Office of Water, the Department of Primary Industries and an independent expert in making its decision.

It also considered submissions from the Gloucester Groundswell community group, which is opposed to the AGL operations.

“The NSW government has treated the Gloucester community and Manning Valley communities with utter contempt,” Groundswell Gloucester chair Julie Lyford said.

“The complicit and underhanded approval of the Waukivory Pilot fracking program and the immediate ability of AGL to start the fracking process of four CSG wells close to homes and dairy farms is an outrage. 

"The State government changed the planning rules to allow this, with no community input, in what has been a shocking abuse of community democracy.”

AGL’s application to frack included a Review of Environmental Factors, an Agricultural Impact Statement and a Fracture Stimulation Management Plan.

A Groundwater Modelling and Monitoring Plan as well as a Produced Water Management Plan must still be completed, Mr Roberts said.

“AGL must comply with the NSW government’s Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Fracture Stimulation Activities and Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Well Integrity,” he said.

“The NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Professor Mary O’Kane provided independent comment and recommendations on the draft codes, based on advice from the expert reviewers.”

Mr Roberts said the renewal of AGL’s exploration licence for six years had been based on a rigorous assessment by the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG).

“The OCSG recommended the renewal of PEL 285 due to AGL’s performance in relation to compliance, environmental performance, safety, its financial and technical capacity and its high level of community consultation,” he said.

“As part of the renewal, AGL will relinquish 25 per cent of its PEL area.”

But Cr Hooke said the government was sending mixed messages.

“The government gives strong messages about the need for effective community consultation and engagement but requires and relies on AGL to do the consultation,” he said.

“AGL has shown an ability to ‘spin’ their story, but for true consultation to occur there simply needs to be clear information to the community and an opportunity for meaningful input back to the government before significant decisions are made.

“The government has also delegated responsibilities to agencies such as the OCSG and the Planning Assessment Commission to make decisions on its behalf, but then has not allowed them to explain those decisions.” 

Council said there had been no engagement with the community about extending AGL’s operating licence.

“Council has recently agreed to participate in the Gloucester Dialogue process, which is seeking to ensure an exchange of information between the parties involved,” Cr Hooke said. 

“The decision on extending the PEL was not discussed in this forum before the decision was made.” 

The Greens spokesman on mining Jeremy Buckingham said the decision was a major blow for Gloucester residents.

“Coal seam gas activity is banned within 2km of urban areas, however, AGL has been given permission to frack within a few hundred metres of houses at the outskirts of town,” he said.

“This is a clear signal that the Liberal and National parties are pro-fracking and pro-coal seam gas.

“This is a dark day for NSW with the Baird government giving the green light to fracking once again, including near people’s homes.”

Groundswell Gloucester chair Julie Lyford has called on opponents of AGL’s project to rise up against the decision.

“We call on the Baird Liberal government to halt the fracking of the beautiful Gloucester valley and await the reports from the NSW Chief Scientist, the Independent Expert Scientific Committee and other significant reports,” she said. 

“The fact that they are ignoring very serious, professional and highly credited 

scientific voices across Australia and disregarding all of the major findings around the world about the dangers of CSG extraction is breathtaking. 

“Culpability will be uppermost in the minds of communities when inevitably things go irreparably wrong. But it will be too late for our ecosystem, water and the future of this fantastic valley.

“If the people of NSW accept this type of behaviour from their government then it is a sad indictment of the state of democracy. 

“(A total of) 330 fracked coal seam gas wells will criss-cross the landscape and destroy this productive farmland and iconic valley. 

“There will be no dairy industry. Around the world no-one wants to drink milk from a polluted irrigated fodder source. 

“We call on the people of NSW to join us in Gloucester to peacefully show that we will not be bullied by industry and government and allow their greed and arrogance to destroy our water resources, our land, air and health.”

The OCSG commissioned an independent expert assessment of the design component of the Fracture Stimulation Management Plan that declared AGL had met the mandatory requirements of the Code of Practice and that the design components were competent.

Mr Roberts said that if AGL failed to comply with the conditions of approval it could result in a fine of up to $1.1 million.