Rally against coal seam gas mining in St Peters showed the great community opposition.

Report from the Gallery – 8th May 2012

This was the Development Assessment Committe Meeting. Absent: Mayor Hanna, Clrs Iskandar & Olive.  The following is how I understood the meeting & all mistakes are mine.  Note: MC = Marrickville Council.  LEP = Marrickville Local Environment Plan 2011. DA = Development Application.  The Councillors & Wards are as follows – LABOR:  Iskandar/Central, Wright/North, Tsardoulias/West, O’Sullivan/South. GREENS:  Phillips/Central, Peters/North, Byrnes/North, Kontellis/West, Olive/South.  INDEPENDENT:  Macri/Central, Thanos/West, Hanna/South.

It’s a long post, but a very important issue in my opinion.

314 Princess Highway St Peters (aka 10-16 Albert Street St Peters)  – See Business paper here –  http://bit.ly/Jcph4L

An employee spoke: Said the DA is to carry on dumping landfill. The 14 new conditions seem to be recommendations by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).  We also operate under the conditions set by the EPA & these conditions are not regulated by MC. 10.1, 10.20, 17.15, 17.7 17.7 (plus another); these 6 conditions we do not agree with. Three change our current operating hours. We already operate within the hours of the noise policy & there has been no noise impact policy.  Stormwater: the parameters come from our stormwater management plan. The EPA should be regulating this. Monitoring landfill capping; the EPA should be regulating this.  Ceasing operation when the wind speed is high; this would cripple our business. There has been no monitoring of dust. We can’t turn trucks away. You may end up with illegal dumping if they can’t use our services. We will defend our position.

Resident 1: I am deeply concerned if this DA goes ahead. I attended a recent huge rally outside Parliament House with the Country Women’s Association, farmers, old & young – all had the same message – our land is too valuable to lose to coal seam gas (CSG).  This is in the city. It’s a risk to our homes with air-pollution & noise. There is a need to evaluate the scientific impacts.  MC could put in a clause in the DA to exclude any other use of the site. CSG is having huge impacts with people being driven out of their homes because of noise. Questions need to be asked by MC. The people must have the confidence that our representative will look at what is right for the people, not just business. All the profits go to the businesses. Who pays for the cleanup?

Public Officer of Stop CSG – Sydney:  I am a long-term resident of Marrickville LGA. We agree to all conditions in favour of the continued existing use. Section 96 of the EPA only refers to existing use. We are objecting because the owner did not claim the relationship with Dart Energy.  The owner must have had relations with Dart Energy. Dart Energy can drill at any time. Dart Energy informed the stock exchange that they will have 10 wells in Australia by end of 2012.  They have applied for a pilot exploration well. Dart Energy told Stop CSG Sydney that it’s a 95% possibility that St Peters will become an active well.  Dart Energy has already applied to the NSW government to have the approved ‘exploration’ well changed to pilot production. Dart Energy has failed to answer questions about the impacts of ‘exploration’ let alone pilot production or production.  Once Dart Energy moves to a production licence, the owner has no effective say in the proposal.  Dart’s existence is relevant to the DA, but was not disclosed.  MC can put conditions on or refuse the DA.  Marrickville’s LEP says extraction industries, offensive industries and open cut mining are prohibited.  Horizontal drilling & fracking is extractive. It is an offensive industry because of the environmental effects, such as pollution to our waterways & aquifers. Next is open-cut mining. MC should refuse the DA.

Pip Hinman: I am a long-term resident in Newtown, a mother & an activist with Stop Coal Seam Gas – Sydney. The community group was set up 2 years ago when it became public knowledge that Dial a Dump had entered into a secret deal with Dart Energy (then Arrow Energy) to allow for exploration for coal seam gas on its site at St Peters in a residential-light industrial area.  I support recycling waste, but wish to speak against council agreeing to Ian Malouf’s application for a permanent licence to run his D-a-D waste & recycling business in St Peters while also allowing an extractive industry – coal seam gas – to function on the site.  Apart from the legal reasons why this should not be allowed – as the Public Officer for Stop CSG-Sydney has outlined – there are environmental & social justice reasons why it is not in council’s nor the community’s interest for CSG mining in the inner city – just 7 kms from the CBD & right next to schools, pre-schools &, of course, homes.  Our group is not just concerned about CSG mining in the city, however.

and it can poison the land & the water

Councillors would be aware of the huge & growing community concern about coal seam gas in our local area & across the country.  As the 5000-8000 strong farmer-led rally on May 1 in response to the NSW government’s land use policies, particularly in relation to CSG & mining, shows these concerns are getting broader by the day.  This is because of the CSG wing of the fossil fuel industry, which has bipartisan government support, has failed to convince broad sections of the community that their industry is not a risk our health & the environment.  Examples abound of the dangerous extraction methods, gas leaks, huge amounts of water being used, an extremely “casual” approach to dealing with the waste products from the drill operations, & the harmful impacts on our aquifers, both from toxic contamination & subsidence.  Numerous calls for a moratorium on the CSG industry until the health & environmental impacts are known have fallen on deaf government ears. Parliamentary inquiries have only gotten part of the way as miners refuse to divulge “commercial in confidence” information that the community has a right to know about.

Council would be aware that Mr Malouf himself does not have a track record of transparency. He did nothing to alert council & residents about the deal he struck with Dart Energy to explore for CSG. He may not have known then about the dangers associated with the industry – but he sure must know now. The deal he has made with Dart doesn’t feature in his current licence application.  Why not?  Malouf must have had arrangement with Dart Energy for the Review of Environmental Factors (REF) to be approved by the NSW government.  Why didn’t former NSW governments let Marrickville Council & our community know?

When the arrangement was discovered – by residents – in late 2010, we started organising against it & Sydney Residents against Coal Seam Gas was formed – later to become Stop CSG-Sydney.  We’ve hosted public meetings – including with Dart Energy executives – information nights, film screenings, & community rallies of more than 2000 people last September.  This pressure on government has meant that Dart’s licence, which expired last October,  has not yet been renewed.  However, the REF has not been revoked & Dart can start drilling any time.

Dart has told the Stock Exchange of its intention to drill 10 wells by the end of this year. We are worried that St Peters is included. We don’t know because despite our repeated requests from the government & the company, no information has been forthcoming.  We want a moratorium on the industry until a Royal Commission into the health & environmental consequences of CSG activity takes place.  The community is not against mining, but it is concerned that the CSG industry is being given free rein despite the problems reported, including by sections of the industry.  The state government’s draft strategic land use policy, with loopholes for miners to get into sensitive areas, & its decision to allow drilling in the Warragamba catchment area (a dam which supplies water to 4.5 million people) gives us very little confidence that it is governing in the community’s interests.

I urge councillors to only grant Dial-a-Dump a 5-year DA contingent on Mr Malouf abandoning his agreement with Dart Energy or any other CSG exploration/production company.  Other councils have done more than this. Lismore City Council & Kyogle Council voted last year to impose a moratorium on all CSG activities on council controlled land.  Lismore Council rejected a seismic testing application by Metgasco, a coal seam gas miner & decided on greater public consultation & complete transparency about any changes to activities on DA-approved sites. They are also holding a poll at local council election time to gauge community views on CSG.

Marrickville needs a waste-recycling centre. We don’t want this waste centre becoming a hazardous waste centre. CSG mining potentially affects a far wider community than is usual for a DA & with potentially dire consequences for our health & water supplies.  I urge councillors to ensure that this DA prevents CSG activities.  This is the only way it would be consistent with the Marrickville LEP & community standards.

Clr Phillips:  This is difficult for MC because we only have restricted powers. Moved that : Addition to condition of consent – That mining or gas exploration  or extraction activities not be allowed (changed to prohibited) on the site due to proximity to residences, the safety & health risks associated with gas extraction & the uncertainty over the effect of CSG extraction on the local environment & aquifers & the potential to further contaminate the land.

It’s important for MC to make this public statement. Exploration without proper assessment becomes production. MC’s hands are tied. It’s up to the NSW government who can cancel or not renew Dart’s licence tomorrow without worrying about compensation.  There are a lot of unknowns re the risks of CSG. There are also noise, lights, pollution, traffic, spills & concerns about water; potentially contaminating water with chemicals & water disposal.  Dart doesn’t admit that you need a grid of wells for extraction work, so if this one works Dart will be looking for more places for wells.  Dial a Dump should listen to the community & limit their land assessment agreement. The Land & Environment Court approved the current use so MC can’t do much.  [Clr Phillip’s motion was absorbed into the original motion].

Clr Byrne:  I’m happy to support the motion.  The conditions show that MC wants assurance that these conditions are being followed. It’s disturbing when you hear it’s no longer an exploration licence & they have applied for pilot production. We don’t know what we are in for. It will happen close to schools, houses & open spaces.  People don’t realise what they are opening the door to.  Our LEP is very specific about the prohibition of extractive & offensive industries. Local planning gets trumped by government all the time.  Hopefully we can send a clear message about what is acceptable.

Clr O’Sullivan:  I strongly support the amended recommendation. I am aware people are deeply concerned about CSG trial extraction on that site. The amendment sends a strong signal that MC is not supportive of these kinds of industries. They contradict our LEP & are therefore illegal. Page 49: the Council Officer’s advice that the EPA requested those conditions be put in the MC approval is being more rigorous in driving down responsibility & this should benefit the community.  We have seen with ongoing Orica [problems] how the EPA have confused residents & the community with poor practices. This one should make a clearer regime. I don’t think we should defer until the City of Sydney meets on this.  I have little doubt that this will not be the end of this issue in terms of the applicant & this is of deep concern to me & the community.

Clr Thanos: I’m not an expert, but this is an example of a very, very greedy landowner putting profit before the community, It’s an absolute disgrace of the 2 previous governments putting profit before the community. They ignored our requests so they could make money.  The community has nothing to gain & everything to lose, especially when you see the massive demonstrations against it.  It’s a classic example where the public interest is being ignored & where government does not know the wishes of the people.  I will put up a motion to write to the government. (further down) to stop these activities in our LGA.  Marrickville Metro is an illegal place. Our current state government would rather take care of donors than take care of the public interest.

Clr Peters: It’s outrageous that there is a potentially high extraction in this site.  If mining would happen on this site it would make an absolute mockery of these conditions. It’s a shocking indictment that the owner has made arrangements with Dart.  Ground water analysis is just for now, not when it starts. Change will not be allowed. It should be prohibited. We are not going to tolerate mining & if they go ahead, there will be people on the streets & I will be with them.  Clr Macri:  The EPA recommended operating hours because of the impact.  The site is 75% MC & 25% City of Sydney.  The Land & Environmnet Court gave 5-years approval because they thought this would be how long needed to fill up the hole. We gave another 5-years, but will not support.  Vote on Clr Phillips motion: Carried unanimously.

Clr Thanos: Motion for MC to write to relevant Minister informing them of the current application & its potential to allow CSG exploration/mining in St Peters area.  Also that, MC & Marrickville community is strongly opposed to CSG exploration & mining being carried out in St Peters & that immediate action be take to preclude such activities from being carried out in such areas, Raise this issue with the CCSA.  Carried unanimously.

Sometimes I feel proud of the Marrickville Councillors & this is one such occasion.  End of Report from the Gallery for this week.

This google map shows 4kms from the Dial a Dump site in a number of directions. Dart Energy have said that they might drill up to 6kms from the St Peters site. Click to enlarge.