In December last year there was much celebration by those opposed to coal seam gas (CSG) mining in the Northern Rivers when the Nationals declared that “the party has secured a CSG-free Northern Rivers”.
Parliamentary Secretary for the North Coast and Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said the government had “listened … and achieved a result that delivers for the people of the Northern Rivers”.
However, those declarations are now being challenged by the NSW Government’s draft North Coast Regional Plan, which includes several references to the future of CSG mining in the region.
In the ‘Investigate complementary activities in rural zones’ section, the draft plan states that “any significant mining or coal seam gas proposals … have to be scrutinised through the independent Gateway process, before a development application can be lodged”.
In the section, ‘Deliver economic growth through sustainable use of, and access to, mineral and energy resources’, it states that “parts of the gas-rich Clarence-Moreton Basin within the north coast have potential coal seam gas resources that may be able to support the development and growth of new industries and provide economic benefits for the region”.
This section refers to the NSW Gas Plan 2014, “which established a clear strategic framework to deliver world’s best-practice standards and regulation for the coal seam gas industry”.
The government has adopted all of the gas plan’s recommendations, including recommendation 5, which states the government should “use its planning powers and capability to designate those areas of the State in which CSG activity is permitted to occur, drawing on appropriate external expertise as necessary”.
Meanwhile, the draft north coast plan also states that the “NSW Department of Industry is mapping coal and coal seam gas resources in the region.
“Once completed, this information will inform future regional and local planning by providing updated information on the location of resources.”
In the NSW Parliament’s legislative council on March 16, the Greens’ Jeremy Buckingham asked Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight (representing the Premier) Duncan Gay: “Will the government guarantee that it will not issue any new coal seam gas licences over the north coast of New South Wales?”
Minister Gay: “The draft regional plan sets a vision for a sustainable and economically diverse north coast and addresses how the potential development of the north coast can be met over the next 20 years.
“…The government has recently completed a buyback of all coal seam gas exploration licences in the north coast region and has no plans for issuing any new licences…
“To put it simply, the government has 25 million reasons why this question and the allegation in the question, and the slur and the sleaze from the Labor Party, are just wrong.”
Minister Gay was referring to the fact that a former Labor government issued the CSG exploration licences “with the help of The Greens … riding shotgun”.
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis was unavailable for comment, as he was overseas; however, his office issued the following statement from Planning Minister Rob Stokes: “The NSW Government has no intention to revive coal seam gas on the north coast.
“More than $27 million has been spent to buy back the exploration licences handed out by the previous government.
“…The draft regional plan identifies all significant resources and industries across the area. While the coal seam gas resource may exist – we have no plans for it to be developed.
“The plan does not indicate that exploration licences will be issued in the region, and we reject any notion that coal seam gas extraction will occur under the North Coast Regional Plan.
“I will ensure that the final plan makes it manifestly clear that coal seam gas resources on the north coast will remain in the ground.”