The state government does not conduct any environmental assessment of exploration drilling for gas into coal seams despite increasing concern about its impact on aquifers and water supplies.
Documents tabled last week in Parliament show the government has little understanding of the possible environmental impact of coal seam gas exploration wells that are being drilled.
The Sun-Herald disclosed at the weekend that the government has approved plans by an exploration company to drill a well searching for gas in St Peters. Neither Marrickville Council nor City of Sydney council had been advised of the plans.
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Exploration drilling is being carried out for gas trapped in coal seams from the far north of NSW, around Casino, to around Gunnedah in the north-west, Singleton in the Hunter Valley and around Camden, south-west of Sydney. Coal gas methane is already extracted already at a number of sites on the southern coalfields around Appin, and at West Cliff, north of Wollongong.
Environmental concerns centre on the need to inject water and special chemicals, so-called fracking fluids, under pressure into many of the wells to force gas to the surface.
Among the tabled documents, an email by senior officials within the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water makes it clear the department has no knowledge of what is occurring, since it has no say in exploration activities.
''The majority of sites that use fracking currently are operating under exploration licences regulated solely by [Department of Industry and Investment]'', which had no environmental or scientific expertise, the departmental officer noted.
The SMH also has an article on Gasland's Josh Fox and the problems associated with fracking fluids - Fracking hell: Busting the natural gas myth.
American theatre director Josh Fox didn’t set out to make a film, much less star in one. But when he received a letter offering him $100,000 in exchange for allowing some natural gas wells to be sunk on his farm in a pristine river valley in Pennsylvania, he decided to ask around. What he discovered was shocking — and, he insists, of more than passing relevance to Australians as we embark on a future in which natural gas is touted as a ‘‘clean’’ alternative to oil and coal.
Fox found that, across the US, there are more than 500,000 natural gas wells, many of them on private property and many of them tapped using a process called ‘‘hydraulic fracturing’’, or ‘‘fracking’’, as it is colloquially known. In this, a hole is drilled hundreds of metres down and a mix of highly toxic chemicals and water is pumped down that hole under pressure, forcing the rock base to crack, thereby releasing the natural gas trapped in it.
The problem is, about one-third of the water mix stays below ground, and in many of the sites Fox visits in his documentary, this residue has leached into the water supply, as has the gas itself. Where that’s happened, people can’t drink the water that comes out of their taps any more; in some cases there’s so much gas coming out they can set their water alight.
‘‘This is a huge issue because once you’ve contaminated an aquifer you can’t go back,’’ says Fox, who has been in Australia to promote his film, Gasland. ‘‘It’s almost impossible to clean an aquifer, so your standard for drinking water should be ‘no risk’. Not ‘risk balanced with energy’, or ‘risk balanced with industry’, just ‘no risk’. Period.’’