Dart Energy will start drilling for coal seam gas close to a World Heritage listed wilderness area this week - and local residents aren't happy. Wendy Bacon reports.
Coal seam drilling will begin this week just 500 metres from the Wollemi National Park, a World Heritage listed wilderness area near Putty in the lower Hunter valley in NSW.
Kathy McKenzie, the convenor of the Putty residents who are campaigning against the drilling was informed about the imminent drilling when she rang Dart Energy about another matter last week. Dart owns Macquarie Energy, the holder of a coal seam gas (CSG) licence in the area. The company announced the drilling in an undated notice delivered to residents later in the week.
Two weeks ago, the company told Putty residents demonstrating at a public meeting in Sydney that it did not expect to drill until mid to late September. Dart had previously apologised to the community for a lack of earlier consultation and undertook in its submission for exploration approval to consult with the community throughout the process.
The company's first Putty drilling approval lapsed after residents pointed out flaws in the approval document to the NSW government. After the O'Farrell government was elected earlier this year, residents opposed to the drilling then hoped a 60 day NSW government moratorium on exploration licences would apply to a new approval. They were disappointed when the NSW Department of Primary Industries granted approval for drilling on a different site. McKenzie told New Matilda that the Putty residents were only able to view the fresh company review of environmental factors after the renewal was granted.
Dart holds similar drilling licences at the coastal heritage village at Catherine Hill Bay, at Williamstown near Newcastle, and over the entire Sydney basin. Representatives of the company are certain to face questions about its latest surprise move when they attend a community meeting in St Peters tonight organised by residents opposed to drilling in Sydney.
Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham said he was horrified that the company had chosen to go ahead with drilling so close to several national parks and called for a "comprehensive pause on the coal seam gas industry".
The only environmental assessments required for drilling approvals are completed by consultants hired by the company. Buckingham described this as a "proponent driven process" which was particularly unsatisfactory for sites near national parks which "give protection from the surface to the centre of the earth" unlike private freehold land rights which only apply to the surface of the earth.
A spokesperson for Dart told New Matilda that the company's current exploration plans only include one exploration drill. Waste drilling fluids will be trucked to a licensed facility. If exploration shows the potential for commercial production, there will be more drills on sites around the area. Dart has previously said that one option would be to take the gas by underground pipeline through the Yengo National Park, another national park which is also very close to the drill site.