NSW chief scientist reports on CSG

FOLLOWING a fact-finding tour on CSG production in New South Wales, chief scientist Mary O’Kane is back with her initial findings, in which she recommends a central point for all environmental data be created to improve transparency.
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CSG is around 25% of gas reserves.

James McGrath

As part of wide-ranging changes to the state’s treatment of CSG outlined in February, O’Kane has been on a tour of existing communities and CSG activities to get a grip on whether the activity is potentially harmful.

While she found there was indeed a great deal of angst over the issue in communities where CSG reserves were predicted to lie, it could be overcome with a commitment to transparency while ensuring engineering best practice, rather than as a minimum requirement.

“The challenges faced by government and industry are considerable and a commitment from all parties will be required to improve the existing situation and build trust with the community,” O’Kane said.

Specifically, she recommended best practice in training employees and contractors, as well as high-level monitoring and stringent compliance inspections.

Interestingly, she also found that punitive measures for operators not abiding by standards be “hefty” and said licence revocation should be on the table.

The other major point she highlighted was the need for whole-of-environment data to be made available to the public.

She called for a subsidence baseline to be considered, going back 15 years using appropriate remote sensing data.

Then, she argued, the government could take data annually to see if there were any changes to subsidence as a result of CSG activity.

It isn’t the end of the review though, with O’Kane to continue her review into next year.

She said the focus would turn to landholders’ legal rights; examining appropriate levels of industry insurance; and conducting a full industry compliance study.

O’Kane said she would be analysing the methods for CSG risk assessment.

In her summation, she noted that “all sides of the debate were united in being cross with the government” and added that despite a lack of data on hydrological matters in the state, both agriculture and mining had been allowed to proceed.

“We do not have a comprehensive map/model of these resources in Australia yet but we still proceed with major agricultural and mining activities whose total impacts on our groundwater system are much more significant than CSG developments in Australia at this stage,” she said.

However, she stressed that CSG required high-ordered engineering solutions and it was not a space for “undercapitalised players”

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