Around thirty farmers and residents of villages in the Gloucester Valley are this morning holding a protest vigil at the site where AGL plans to frack coal seam gas wells on farmland in the area, vowing to begin a sustained campaign of peaceful direct action to stop the work after failure by the NSW Government to act on long-standing community concerns about the impacts of the project.
Last week, the State Government changed the key state planning policy for mining to relieve AGL of the obligation to get development consent and prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for their Waukivory fracking project. Yesterday afternoon, the Resources and Energy Minister renewed AGL’s petroleum exploration licence in the Gloucester Valley for six years and announced that the project had been approved. Within hours, trucks began to arrive to prepare the fracking site. This morning, a protest vigil is underway at the entrance to the site.
Former Gloucester Mayor Julie Lyford is at the protest and said, “AGL and its coal seam gas fracking are not welcome in this valley, but we have been abandoned to a fracking fate by the state government that has left Gloucester out of its coal seam gas reforms and changed the law to suit AGL and shaft the community.
“Today is the beginning of a campaign of peaceful direct action to stop this fracking project. The Government has failed to protect us. There’s no coal seam gas exclusion up here, no gateway, no protection, no buffer."
Local cattle farmer Ed Robinson’s property is adjacent to AGL. He says he will take peaceful direct action and risk arrest to protect the Gloucester Valley.
Mr Robinson said, “We are taking a stand to protect our community from coal seam gas. We do not want this dangerous industry in our neighbourhood, and we will continue to fight until our valley is protected. Our commitment is non-violent, but it is non-negotiable.
“This coal seam gas project has been foisted on us by a gas company with no interest in a sustainable and healthy future for our region, supported by short-sighted and compromised politicians and bureaucrats who are deaf to the wishes of our community.
“We will be asking people from across the region and the state who value clean water and safe communities to support Gloucester to help us begin a peaceful blockade of this site, to show the Government that community power can achieve what they’re too weak to do.”
Background to Government failures regarding Gloucester gas
- 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.
- The 2km residential buffer for coal seam gas operations that came into effect in October 2013 does not apply to this project because the exclusion does not apply fro rural homes. AGL's larger and already-approved Gloucester Gas coal seam gas production project also avoided having the CSG exclusion applied, as it was approved before the Government brought the regulation into effect.
- The coal seam gas industry provides this list of chemicals it says are used in coal seam gas fracking operations in Australia. 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 last week.
- Approval by the OCSG for the fracking was given this week, and all indications are that the NSW Government gave AGL advanced warning so they could begin the project immediately.