Threat to expand power … Tony Burke Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The risk of land subsidence under houses in western Sydney because of coal seam gas projects is a critical concern motivating his environmental planning showdown with the NSW Government, Environment Minister Tony Burke said yesterday.
Mr Burke has rejected NSW's proposed assessment procedures for CSG and big coal mines and threatened to expand federal powers of intervention if it is not improved, as community concerns grow about CSG wells in western Sydney and northern NSW and both CSG wells and coal mines in New England and the Hunter Valley.
Mr Burke said he had been warned of the potential for land subsidence due to water extraction as he assessed, and eventually approved, CSG mines on the Darling Downs in Queensland.
''In that case it was unlikely to have had an impact on the endangered species, which is what we were assessing, but if the same danger exists for the projects in built-up urban areas in western Sydney the potential risks are extraordinary and that is why I want to satisfy myself that all the scientific assessments are done, and that they have to be taken into account,'' Mr Burke told Fairfax Media.
''We are talking about settled areas where you could be having that subsidence under people's homes, under schools, under roads.''
AGL has plans to drill 66 coal seam gas wells in an area between Liverpool and Campbelltown, with horizontal drilling potentially running under thousands of homes and the possible use of the controversial technique, fracking, for some vertical wells.
But the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association said there had been 86 producing CSG wells in the Camden area for years, without causing any problems of land subsidence and accused Mr Burke of ''baseless and politically-motivated alarmism''.
The NSW Resources Department fact sheet states: ''CSG activities do not result in significant subsidence of the land surface.'' As revealed by Fairfax Media yesterday, Mr Burke wrote to Premier Barry O'Farrell demanding the NSW government reconsider CSG licences in western Sydney and has threatened to expand federal environment powers to address the problems.
But embarrassingly for Mr O'Farrell, one of his own western Sydney backbenchers, Bryan Doyle, tweeted his opposition to the AGL plan to drill in south-west Sydney yesterday.
Mr Doyle, the member for Campbelltown, tweeted ''AGL wants CSG in our Scenic Hills and under our homes, but we at Campbelltown say 'No, No, No'".
The federal government says that unlike other states, NSW is refusing to guarantee that it will take independent scientific advice into account when it assesses mining and gas projects.
The state's planning assessment commission is considering an application by Apex Energy to extend the time within which it can drill 16 wells in the Sydney drinking water catchment area.
Apex wants a new expiry date set at three years from the time the first bore hole is drilled.
The NSW Department of Planning has recommended the extension be granted with conditions, but due to the large number of public submissions opposing it, the final decision will be made by the PAC, which will hold a public hearing on February 13.
Last year it was revealed there were fears for oversight of the catchment area after the O'Farrell government appointed a former federal Liberal Party treasurer and former mining company director, Mark Bethwaite, to the board of the Sydney Catchment Authority.