Thirty residents of the Gloucester Valley and their supporters have set up a peaceful blockade this morning at the site of AGL's planned coal seam gas fracking project, risking arrest to stop preliminary earthworks on the site.
The controversial fracking project was approved by the NSW Government last week, less than a fortnight after it changed state planning regulations to allow approval to be given without AGL completing an Environmental Impact Statement.
AGL's Gloucester CSG project came under fire again this week after local residents discovered that the company had failed to properly declare all the political donations it made while previous Gloucester CSG applications were being assessed. AGL has since conceded that it has breached NSW donation disclosure laws, though it disputes the details.
“Something dodgy is going on with AGL's Gloucester gas project, and we need to get to the bottom of it” said Julie Lyford, spokesperson for the protest, and former Mayor of Gloucester. “How much money has AGL donated to political parties, and what did they receive in return?
“Why did the Baird Government change the law to allow AGL to frack for CSG just a few hundred metres from family homes without even completing a full environmental impact study?” asked Ms Lyford.
“The NSW Government is failing to protect Gloucester from CSG, so we are taking action today to protect ourselves.”
Some of the blockade participants have travelled from the Taree area, downstream of Gloucester, and say the water catchment of 75,000 people is threatened by the Gloucester gas project.
“Opposition to AGL’s plan to turn Gloucester into a gasfield is coming from all quarters,” said Chris Sheed OAM, President of Manning Clean Water Action Group (MCWAG). “Mid Coast Water and Gloucester Council are opposed to CSG and the Greater Taree City Council have formally asked AGL to withdraw CSG operations from Gloucester. Manning Valley residents will stand shoulder to shoulder with Gloucester, and other communities from across the state, to stop this outrageous assault on our beautiful valley.”
“If AGL know what is good for them, they will gracefully abandon this project and focus their attention and future investment on their renewable energy projects - based on wind and solar - of which they can be rightfully proud,” he said..
AGL need to complete several weeks of site preparation before they can attempt to begin fracking. Residents and their supporters have vowed to carry out a campaign of peaceful direct action against the project.
Background – state government changes law to fast-track Gloucester fracking without an EIS.
- AGL applied to the NSW Government in October 2013 to frack four previously-drilled CSG wells near Gloucester (<400 metres from the nearest home) under their exploration licence. It's called Waukivory Pilot Project.
- Coal seam gas fracking includes the use of harmful chemicals. The National Toxics Network has raised various concerns about the environmental and health risks associated with the chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing and has said that these chemicals are not adequately assessed or monitored.
- For their application, AGL submitted a Review of Environmental Factors (REF). An REF is essentially a desktop environmental study, not a full impact assessment.
- Under NSW regulations, a CSG project is a "State Significant Development" by default and requires development consent and an Environmental Impact Statement unless it comprises five or less wells that are more than 3km from any other wells.
- AGL did not do a full EIS because there are only four wells in the development. However, the local group Groundswell Gloucester demonstrated that there are at least two more wells within 3km.
- Late last year, the community put this in writing to the NSW Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG), requesting that full EIS is completed for the project, as required under the regulations.
- OCSG said that they would respond to the letter, "before a determination is made on the project".
- The Government has never responded. Instead, changes were made to the State Environmental Planning Policy for mining that widened the loophole and relieved AGL of the obligation to get planning approval and conduct full assessment of their exploration drilling. These changes were gazetted 25th July.
- Approval by the OCSG for the fracking was given on 6th August, as was an Environment Protection Licence from the EPA.