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Thousands sign anti-CSG petition

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Stop CSG Illawarra have walked into the NSW parliament and handed over a 13,000 strong petition calling for a statewide ban on all CSG drilling in water catchment areas.

Nearly 200 anti-CSG campaigners met at Sydney’s Hyde Park on Wednesday before marching to parliament where the group was told Premier Barry O’Farrell was ‘‘unavailable’’ to receive the document.

Stop CSG Illawarra spokeswoman Jess Moore said she hoped the petition would put an end to CSG activities near water catchment areas, The Illawarra Mercury reported.

‘We want the land that supplies our drinking water protected,’’ she said.

‘‘CSG exploration and mining always involves methane leaks and industrial development that is incompatible with our drinking water catchments.’’

The petition is the second of its kind to be delivered to the state government.

In 2011 campaigners handed over a document with 11,000 signatures, calling for an end to CSG exploration in the Hunter Valley.

Moore said the recent petition showed how serious the group was about protecting the environment, with proponents spending hours knocking on neighbours doors in Wombarra, Coalcliff, Coledale, Clifton and Darkes Forest, to gain support.

‘‘This has taken close to a year; it’s quite an onerous process as the government will not accept signatures online so we’ve literally had to have 13,000 conversations with different home owners,’’ she said.

‘‘I think the most valuable thing is not just submitting the petition but that so many people know that CSG activities can go ahead at the moment in the catchment; it’s raising awareness as well as support.’’

In July Apex Energy were denied permission to drill 16 exploration wells within Illawarra water catchment areas.

The NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) rejected the proposed drilling program, stating that more conclusive studies on the impact of CSG activities to drinking water were needed.

“It appears that the potential risks of coal seam gas activities are still being established and that there is some uncertainty regarding the potential impacts of the suite of coal seam gas extraction techniques which could be applied within various geological formations,” PAC said at the time.

“..a finding that Coal Seam Gas Operations may have fewer groundwater and subsidence impacts is not accepted as a reason to support the proposal.”

In February the NSW government enforced a CSG exclusion zone which banned all operations within two kilometres of residential or critical industry zones.

However Moore said the ban did not go far enough.

"We want the 2 per cent of land in NSW that supplies the drinking water of 60 per cent of people protected," Moore said.

In an initial independent report on NSW coal seam gas activities released in July, Professor Mary O'Kane confirms there are wide-ranging community concerns about CSG and suggests tougher regulation, increased penalties for breaches and more environmental research be conducted.

"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," O'Kane said.  

She explained that the polarising CSG debate has been fuelled by unanswered community 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”.

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