Open letter to:
The Hon. Barry O’Farrell, MLA
Parliament House
Sydney,  NSW

1st December, 2012

Dear Mr O’Farrell

I write concerning two articles that were in “The Land” newspaper recently (15th Nov, 2012), about the effect that mining has had, and will have, on the agricultural sector in Australia.

The first article, on page 10, “Mining’s collateral damage” reports on a study by the Australia Institute titled “Beating around the bush: the impact of the mining boom on rural exports” (Nov 2012, Matt Grudnoff).  The author calculated that the rural sector, because it is a trade-exposed industry, has received close to $15 billion less income in the past year, because of the high Australian dollar.  He suggests that the management of the boom may have been done in a more responsible way in regard to other sectors of the economy.

The mining boom has not been managed well.  There has been a reliance on the simple belief that unrestrained growth of the resources sector is in Australia’s national interest.

This leads on to the second article, on page 16, “Report favours natural resources”.  The article discusses the report “An analysis of coal seam gas production and natural resource management in Australia” (2012) prepared by John Williams (ex CSIRO) for the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors.  Dr Williams argues that uncontrolled coal seam gas (CSG) extraction may have a number of unintended negative effects on our water and landscapes.

CSG is extracted from underground coal seams, which have natural fractures.  These fractures hold water.  Before coal seam gas can be released, the water has to be extracted to de-pressurise the coal seams.

This leads to a number of questions (which have not yet been satisfactorily answered), such as: will the water movement to and from freshwater aquifers be changed?  Should the extracted water be replaced, and if so, how?  How should the liberated salts and other chemicals from the coal seam be dealt with?  How can we ensure that the produced water is kept separate from fresh water even during floods?  How can hydraulic fracturing fluids be contained and managed?  There is also the possibility of land subsidence to consider.

CSG production requires infrastructure (roads, wells, pipelines).  The building of this infrastructure can lead to loss of native vegetation, and fragmentation of habitats.  The Native Vegetation Act in NSW has effectively slowed broadscale clearing of native vegetation for agriculture.  However, this Act does not appear to regulate land clearing for CSG infrastructure as it regulates the actions of private landholders.

I know that the State government cannot control external factors such as the exchange rate, but you are the body that controls the way new resource industries are developed.  In that respect, these reports state that broader economic, social and environmental aspects must be fully assessed and the results used as the basis of the development process.

I respectfully ask you to re-assess CSG development in this light.  Ensure that the baseline hydrological, ecological and agricultural studies are done, and community consultation occurs, prior to further wells being sunk.  If the research shows no adverse impacts and the community is supportive, then all parties (community, industry and government) will benefit.  This would be far preferable to the present situation where there is widespread community disquiet (across ALL sectors) and an “Us and Them” mentality exists.

The effects of resource extraction are felt by all parts of the community.  Let us ensure that these gifts are used in such a way that no-one suffers and our land remains viable for future generations.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Nathan Kesteven

Whian Whian Landcare
Whian Whian  NSW  2480

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