Fracking fails the poll test


Fracking fails the poll test

DateApril 3, 2013 44 reading now

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Sean Nicholls, Paddy Manning

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Barry O’Farrell
Tony Burke
Drew Hutton

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National day of action against coal seam gas at camp shortland near Nobbys Beach Newcastle
Setback for O’Farrell: Three-quarters of NSW voters are opposed to coal seam gas exploration. Photo: Phil Hearne

Three-quarters of NSW voters oppose coal seam gas exploration on agricultural land, the latest polling reveals, as the government draws more fire over its handling of the resource.

A Fairfax Media/Nielsen poll shows fewer than one in five supports allowing the process, with 17 per cent favouring it.

In a blow for the government, the poll indicates opposition is as strong among Coalition voters (75 per cent) as Labor voters (73 per cent). The finding comes as the government was singled out for not yet signing a protocol to refer big coal and coal seam gas projects to a national expert panel for advice on their environmental impact.

The independent expert scientific committee was set up last year by federal Environment Minister Tony Burke under an agreement with independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. A report by the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council, released on Tuesday, said NSW was the only participating state not to reach agreement with the Commonwealth on how to decide which projects were referred for advice.


A spokesman for Premier Barry O’Farrell said the government had put a protocol to the federal government for approval and was awaiting a response.

The report coincided with an announcement by the gas company Dart Energy that it would slash 70 per cent of its workforce – about 100 jobs – and suspend its operations in NSW in response to state and federal policy shifts. In February, Mr O’Farrell banned coal seam gas activity within two kilometres of residential areas and within horse-breeding and wine producing regions.

The government has since proposed to allow councils to remove the protections in their area and is seeking public comment on the changes, which do not protect agricultural land in the same manner.

In March, Mr Burke announced legislation to empower the Commonwealth to intervene in projects that pose a threat to water supply.

But on Tuesday, Dart Energy chairman Nick Davies told the stock exchange the decisions created uncertainty for the industry. ”The consequence is that investment is leaving the country, field

operations are being suspended, Australian jobs are being lost, and the impending energy crisis in NSW is not being addressed, and indeed, will only get worse,” he said.

A spokeswoman for state Energy and Resources Minister Chris Hartcher said it was ”a commercial decision” of the company.

The Dart decision follows a move by energy company Metgasco to suspend exploration of the Clarence Moreton basin in northern NSW citing ”the uncertain operating environment”.

In its annual report another company, Planet Gas, said there was substantial uncertainty about the future of coal seam gas in NSW.

Drew Hutton, president of the anti-CSG group Lock the Gate, said the poll showed that ”if it’s necessary to protect residential areas and industry clusters, it would seem just as important to protect our best farmland”.

But Mr Hartcher’s spokeswoman said the industry was subject to the most stringent controls in Australia. These included ”strict codes of practice regulating drilling and well design, and statewide application of the government’s aquifer interference policy”.

The eastern region chief operating officer with the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, Rick Wilkinson, said the poll asked the wrong question.

”We expect that a poll asking whether people in NSW want cheaper energy costs, more economic growth, and an industry that co-exists with farmers and creates tens of thousands of jobs, would have seen the numbers reversed,” he said.

Proponents warn that NSW faces a gas shortage by 2014-15 when existing long-term contracts begin to expire if the industry is not allowed to grow.

The poll findings come as the government renewed its push to facilitate coal seam gas development by sending dedicated community liaison officers to affected areas.

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