A coal seam gas protest at Fullerton Cove, north of Newcastle. Photo: Peter Stoop PAS
NSW Chief Scientist Mary O'Kane says coal seam gas drilling poses health and environmental challenges that should be met by an overhaul of workplace training, greater transparency and more research.
In an initial review of the coal seam gas industry, commissioned by the state government, Professor O'Kane asked for a series of changes to create a ''world class'' regulatory environment.
''People have a right to know the science and a right to know the impacts of the industry, so transparency in regulation and governance is essential,'' she said.
''Certain aspects and certain players within the industry do need to change but, in many cases, they don't need to change an awful lot - it's really about enforcing absolute best practice across all aspects of gas extraction.''
The report said thorough and uniform training should be enforced for all coal seam gas industry workers, including contractors, and all environmental regulations should be more rigorously enforced, with hefty fines imposed and licence to operate withdrawn in the event of failures.
It called for an accessible database of up-to-date information about the environmental impacts of drilling and landholders rights.
NSW Health should play an active role in monitoring drill sites, and baseline data about water pollution, subsidence and earthquakes should be gathered and presented in one place, it said.
''From consideration of the technical matters studied within the review, it is clear that CSG extraction, like all forms of energy production, poses environmental and health challenges,'' the report said.
''CSG exploration and extraction on the state-wide level needs to be thought of as a complex system requiring well-articulated and detailed engineering solutions. This is not an industry for undercapitalised players … The CSG industry should be considered as more analogous to major infrastructure projects such as state-wide traffic systems or designing and building new high-tech aircraft than as a cottage industry.''
Professor O'Kane said the gas industry was still evolving, and major companies should be prepared for continual changes and new regulations, as the science advanced.
The government was reviewing the report on Tuesday.
''The NSW government has received the initial report and will be considering the Chief Scientist's recommendations,'' said a spokeswoman for Resources Minister Chris Hartcher.
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, said the report ''raises complex issues'' that it would consider over the next few days.
''APPEA notes that the Chief Scientist found concerns regarding the gas industry's development 'can be offset by ensuring engineering best practice; superb monitoring by industry; diligent and transparent compliance checks by regulators','' spokesman Michael Bradley said.
Many of the Chief Scientist's recommendations had already been adopted by gas drillers, he said.
''APPEA is committed to working with the Chief Scientist throughout the next phase of this process to find a solution to the state's impasse, as NSW consumes almost a quarter of the east coast gas supply but produces less than 1 per cent of that supply.''
The Chief Scientist's review will continue, with a set of final recommendations due to be issued next year.