On 30 July 2013, NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, released a 174 page report following a review of coal seam gas (CSG) related activities in the State which focused on the impacts of such activities on human health and the environment. The report highlights the need for a world class practice, high performance standards and training, and recommends the implementation of a State-wide repository for environmental data, a strong regulatory and monitoring regime and further research into environmental impacts.
On 21 February 2013, Premier Barry O’Farrell commissioned the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer to conduct a comprehensive and independent review of CSG activities in the State (Review). Under the terms of reference, Professor O’Kane was requested to:
The purpose of the Review was to address the community’s concerns about the operation of CSG activities in NSW.
As part of the Review, technical information papers on specific issues have been commissioned including:
The Review process was carried out over 5 months, during which time over 200 public submissions were received.
In releasing the initial report (Report), Professor O’Kane described CSG extraction as “a complex and multi-layered issue” that has created divisions in NSW because of “the emotive nature of community concerns, the competing interests of its players, and a lack of publicly-available factual information.” Ultimately, the Report found that CSG clearly poses environmental and health challenges like all other forms of energy production. Although some of these challenges may effectively be managed through best practices and rigorous monitoring, the Report calls for a commitment to significant ongoing research into the long-term and cumulative environmental impacts.
Based on consultations and submissions to date, the Review made the following 5 key recommendations aimed at improving the information available to the community and assisting Government to build confidence that it has the intention and capacity to oversee a safe CSG industry:
Although the NSW Government’s response to her initial recommendations is yet to be seen, O’Kane anticipates delivering her next report in 2014.
In the next stages of the Review, Professor O’Kane intends to further explore and address:
The next phase will involve commissioning studies on risk and exposure pathways for chemicals and contaminants, as well as commissioning further legal work to strengthen land owner compensation, company insurance and operator penalties.
Although the Report does not make any sweeping conclusions about the impacts of CSG extraction on the environment and human health, the next stages of the Review are inevitably going to take time and, potentially, cause delays to the delivery of vital gas supplies to the State. The NSW Government’s response to the initial recommendations along with the next stages of the Review will provide a firmer indication of the likely length of such delays.
At this stage, it is over to the Government to implement a repository for all State environment data to monitor the cumulative impacts of CSG over the long-term. A prompt response by the Government to implement the extensive monitoring system recommended by the Report could be established in time to allow the CSG industry to develop before the State suffers gas shortages and price rises as contracts begin to expire late next year.
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