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'Significant challenges' facing CSG industry: chief scientist

03 July, 2014

The NSW government must take steps to build public trust in its capacity to oversee a safe coal seam gas (CSG) industry in the state, the Chief Scientist & Engineer has said.

In her initial report Professor Mary O'Kane has confirmed wide-ranging community concerns about CSG.

She said the government and industry face significant challenges going forward.

"CSG is a complex issue which has proven divisive chiefly because of the emotive nature of community concerns, the competing interests of the players, and a lack of publicly-available factual information," Professor O'Kane said.  

"The debate has been fuelled by unanswered concerns surrounding landholders' legal rights, land access and use; human health; the environment, particularly relating to impacts on water; engineering and operational processes; and industry regulation and compliance."

Unanimous commitment

Professor O'Kane said: "The challenges faced by government and industry are considerable and a commitment from all parties will be required to improve the existing situation and build trust with the community."

Professor O'Kane's initial report acknowledges CSG extraction, like all forms of energy production, poses human health and environmental challenges.

But it's found many of those concerns can be offset by ensuring engineering best practice; superb monitoring by industry; diligent and transparent compliance checks by regulators; and a rapid and effective response, then remediation, should an incident occur.

Key recommendations

Professor O'Kane says the government can build public confidence by taking steps to prove its intent and capacity to oversee a safe CSG industry in New South Wales, including that:

  • It commits to establishing a regime for extraction of coal seam gas that is world class;
  • It commissions the design and establishment of a whole-of-environment data repository for all State environment data;
  • A pre-major-CSG whole-of-State subsidence baseline be calculated using appropriate remote sensing data going back at least 15 years;
  • All coal seam gas industry personnel including subcontractors working in operational roles be subject to mandatory training and certification requirements; and
  • It continues and extends its role as a champion of research relevant to the hard problems related to under-earth, especially the development of sophisticated predictive underground models and a formalisation of engineering processes for cumulative impact assessment.

"The issue of CSG is a very tough one and requires a commitment from government to sound policy implementation based on highly developed data," Professor O'Kane said.

"Further research will also be essential to filling knowledge gaps."

Professor O'Kane said the independent review will continue well into next year.

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