Blue Mountains City Council




 

Coal Seam Gas

What is Coal Seam Gas

Coal Seam Gas (CSG) is a natural gas that is extracted from coal seams deep underground. It is predominantly methane, which is odourless and colourless. At the end of the production cycle, the gas is chilled into liquefied natural gas (LNG) for use in electricity production. The LNG produced from CSG extraction in Australia is mainly for export markets, but also for domestic (household) use. For more information, the NSW Government CSG webpage, launched 2 May 2013, is available at Coal Seam Gas.

Why is Council concerned about CSG?

The primary reason for our concern is the number of likely environmental impacts from CSG exploration and extraction. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Dewatering of groundwater aquifers
  • Impacts on stream flow and water quality
  • Land subsidence
  • Damage to river ecosystems
  • Leaching of gas during actual methane gas production.

The above impacts arise from the very nature of CSG where the methane trapped in coal is adsorbed onto the coal surface and held in place by a reservoir and water pressure in the coal seam. Basically, the coal is the source of, and the reservoir for, the methane. Water within the seam therefore has to be drawn off before the methane is extracted, and as the amount of water in the seam decreases, methane production increases. Essentially, bore holes placed within the coal seam have to be de-watered continuously and it is the environmental impacts from dewatering that are of the greatest concern, including the quality of water extracted and the disposal of such water.

There are many websites that explore the impacts of CSG on the environment and communities.

Our concerns about Coal Seam Gas in the Blue Mountains

One of the most exceptional features of our area is the hanging swamps and associated groundwater-dependent ecosystems. These ecosystems rely solely on the purity and the reliability of groundwater aquifers, which would be greatly threatened by any CSG exploration and/or production.

The listing of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (GBMWHA) in 2000 was a resounding achievement for the preservation of a unique environment of international standing. The likely impact on the quantity and quality of water in the GBMWHA is seen as being highly destructive, not just to the World Heritage Listing (a listing that is regularly reviewed) but also to the water supplies of Sydney and Lithgow which are sourced from within the GBMWHA.

In particular, the impact of contaminated coal seam water entering both groundwater and surface water systems in the GBMWHA, and the effect on drinking water quality in these areas, is of specific concern. It is also worth noting that, given the requirement for dewatering of coal seams, it is likely that extraction, even outside the area, would have an impact in the GBMWHA given the inter-connecting and complex nature of groundwater aquifers.

What CSG leases already exist over the Blue Mountains?

The NSW Government CSG website has an interactive map available to search for CSG wells by postcode or area, company name or licence title.

This interactive map will also eventually show information confirming:

  • if a CSG well is currently in production,
  • whether the well has been rehabilitated and permanently sealed or suspended;
  • whether the well has been fractured and on what date; and
  • whether the well has been horizontally or laterally drilled.

In addition, maps for each individual lease, and application under assessment, can be found here on the website of the NSW Trade & Investment, Division of Resources and Energy, Mineral Resources Branch.

For an interactive map showing the entire state, this map from ABC News Online may be suitable to search for leases in NSW (current to April 2012).

In addition, there is a map from the local Stop Coal Seam Gas group showing leases over the Blue Mountains area.

Coal Seam Gas Review by NSW Chief Scientist

NSW Chief Scientist and Engeineer, Professor Mary O'Kane, was directed by NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell in February 2013 to conduct a comprehensive review of CSG-related activities, focussing on the human health and environment impact. The initial report of this independent review was released 30 July 2013 and can be accessed here.

What role does Council play in the approval process for CSG leases?

Council has no approval powers in this area as applications for CSG exploration and extraction are made to the NSW Government. Council can, and will, make submissions during the application process, and lobby State members on the issues of CSG, but has the same status as any other submitter to the process.

What is Council doing?

Council is strongly opposed to the granting of any exploration licence for CSG in or near our local government area (LGA) and the GBMWHA, now or in the future, given the above likely environmental impacts on it and surrounding areas.

Council has written many letters outlining our opposition to CSG exploration and mining to Members of NSW Parliament, as well as responding to specific exploration licence applications.

Past and current actions of the Council are described below:

Council Resolutions on CSG:

 

  • Council Meeting 18 August 2009 (Notice of Motion - Item 25)
  • Council Meeting 6 November 2012 (Matter of Urgency – Minutes only)
  • Council Meeting 27 November 2012 (Matter of Urgency – Minutes only)
  • Council Meeting 29 January 2014 (Item 28)
  • Council Meeting 14 May 2013 (Item 11)

Submissions on licence applications

In September 2009, Council sent letters to the then NSW Premier and various Ministers and Members of Parliament, including the then Federal Minister for the Environment, objecting to the application made at the time by Pangaea Resources to the NSW Government for a licence to prospect for CSG in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Despite the objection of Council this licence was approved, however it has since lapsed.

Another submission made by Council in December 2012 was regarding an application for Petroleum Special Prospecting Authority PSPAPP 60 as it potentially covers a large area of NSW including the GBMWHA and Blue Mountains LGA. This application has closed for submissions and is under assessment as at May 2013 for information on PSPAPPs under active consideration.

Submissions to State Government policy on CSG

A submission was made by the Council on the NSW Coal and Gas Strategy Scoping Paper in April 2011. This submission referenced a number of issues important to the Blue Mountains area, including the uncertainty surrounding various techniques used for coal seam gas drilling, particularly hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’).

Council also wrote to the Premier of NSW, the Hon Barry O’Farrell MP, and the Hon Brad Hazzard MP Minister for Planning and Infrastructure in December 2012 expressing concerns about CSG exploration. Letters were also sent at this time to the NSW Premier in December 2012, in his role as the Minister responsible for the Environmental Protection Authority, and to the Minister of Planning, for his role in the approval of CSG approvals. These letters were sent to urge “them to put in place effective measures – if CSG drilling goes ahead against the Council’s and community’s wishes – to constantly and independently monitor aquifers and surface water which might be affected by any well, and to immediately notify Council and halt all activity if there is any sign of contamination, water course bed collapse, or other adverse impacts on the water system.”

A further submission from Council on the proposed Draft State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production, and Extractive Industries) Amendment (Coal Seam Gas Exclusion Zones) 2013 was made in April 2013. This submission advised the Department of Planning of the concerns of Council that, as it presently stands, the proposed amendments do not provide sufficient protection to the environmental values of the Blue Mountains from CSG activities. The submission requested a total prohibition of all CSG activities inside the GBMWHA and the LGA.

Other actions of Council

The Mayor of the Blue Mountains attended an anti-CSG forum in March 2013 where the position of Council to oppose all CSG activities was discussed. As reported in the Blue Mountains Gazette, the Mayor declared coal seam gas as “the biggest threat to the future of “brand Blue Mountains”. The full article can be found at Blue Mountains Gazette

In addition, Council will be installing physical signage at each of the entries into the Blue Mountains LGA stating that the Blue Mountains is opposed to CSG, as resolved at the Council meeting of 14 May 2013 (Item 11). It is planned that these signs will be in place around the end of the current financial year.

How can I have my say?

The community has a formal role to play whenever an application for a licence is made. Guidelines on making submissions during this process can be found through the NSW Government website.

The NSW Government also makes formal policies that involve a public consultation period. Again, there is a role for individual community members to make submissions during the exhibition period.

Council, as noted above, makes submissions on individual lease applications and policy areas.

And, there is always the opportunity to contact elected Councillors and NSW Government representatives outside formal submission processes.

I want to get more involved in stopping CSG in the Blue Mountains?

There are a number of organisations and groups who actively lead and coordinate community action against CSG, including the well known group Lock The Gate

A local group actively campaigning against CSG is Stop CSG Blue Mountains