“Protect our water, protect our land, city and country, united we stand.”
That was the message chanted by protesters as a crowd – estimated at 8,000 to 10,000 people by New South Wales Farmers president Fiona Simson – descended on Sydney’s Martin Place on Tuesday to urge the state government to protect land and water resources from coal seam gas (CSG) mining.
These were no typical protesters. Prior to Tuesday, the Country Women’s Association had not joined a march in Sydney in its 90-year history. They did so this time because they felt the issues surrounding CSG mining were incredibly important.
The protesters included farmers, conservationists, wine growers, tourism operators and concerned residents. They were people like Natrisha Parish, a wheat and barley farmer from Liverpool Plains in the north-western slopes of the state, who says she fears for the future and health of her two children.
They were fighting for their livelihoods, the environment, and their supply of food and drinking water.
They rose as one, they spoke with one voice: no coal seam gas.
Finally, they did so even as a new report argued that coal seam gas projects should be allowed to go ahead, albeit with a temporary halt to the issuing of new licenses for exploration projects.
Given the extent to which anger and opposition toward CSG has intensified over the past year, an event like that which took place on Tuesday was almost inevitable.
The anger shown by CSG opponents was further fuelled in February by the discovery of toxic chemicals in water samples near a saline water spill at a Santos coal seam gas project in Narrabri in the northern NSW.
The good news for the protesters is that many policy-makers are listening. Already, one council in southern Queensland has attempted to ban all new CSG projects within its borders, and at a federal level, the government is trying to reach agreement with the states on a new CSG framework.
New Report Says CSG Should Go Ahead
Meanwhile, a new report has argued that coal seam gas exploration be allowed to go ahead in New South Wales to provide more information about its potential impact.
But the parliamentary committee report, which was tabled to the NSW Legislative Council on Tuesday and examines the environmental, economic and social impacts of CSG, also recommends that no new licenses be granted until a ‘comprehensive’ regulatory framework is in place.
“More data needs to be gathered to assess potential impacts, and in order to do this we need to allow the exploration phase to proceed,” committee chairman and Shooters Party MP Robert Brown said in a statement.
The report made 35 recommendations. Along with the temporary stoppage of issuing new licences, these recommendations include a tightening of the draft code of practice for CSG exploration to make it mandatory rather than optional for companies to pay for investigations such as independent water testing. The report also recommends that the government ensure companies are held responsible for the full cost of remediating any environmental damage caused by their CSG operations.