Fullerton Cove blockade against coal seam gas.

Public interest traded off for private profit

Call for no-go zones for coal and coal seam gas.

Janine Kitson

Throughout NSW, communities are being confronted with the battle of their lives as big coal and gas companies move onto their farms, next to their schools, under their water catchments and into their nature reserves.

Pollution from coal and gas mining is now seriously affecting the health of many communities, and many courageous farmers and traditional owners are “locking the gate” to block the drill rigs moving onto their land.

Most of NSW is now covered with mining and exploration licences thanks to NSW Labor. The NSW Liberal Coalition promised it would return transparency and power to the people but it too has traded off public interest for private profit.

Clean drinking water for 4.5 million Sydney residents is being threatened by coalmines. Former premier Barry O’Farrell’s promise that “the next Liberal-National Government will ensure that mining cannot occur ... in any water catchment area … no ifs, no buts, a guarantee” (January 2009) has been broken.

Despite evidence of cracking river beds and pollution caused by underground mining the Coalition Government has allowed seven longwall coalmines to operate under Sydney’s water catchment. A full 90 per cent of Sydney’s water catchment is now covered by coal seam gas exploration licences.

Aquifers in the Pilliga forest in north-west NSW have been contaminated with dangerous uranium yet Santos’s coal seam gas operation there continues to be rolled out. The Pilliga is an important recharge area for the Great Artesian Basin.

Farmers’ precious water supply is threatened by Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine near Boggabri which will be able to take for its use at least three billion litres of water a year from the Namoi River.

The expansion of coal seam gas in the Liverpool Plains threatens to destroy one of the richest agricultural areas in NSW. The fertile, black soils of the Liverpool plains consistently produce yields that are higher than average. Its favourable climate and unique aquifer system enable crops to be grown in both summer and winter.

The Pilliga coal seam gas project area involves mining in a State Conservation Area. This publicly owned land includes threatened species such as the Pilliga mouse, the Regent honeyeater and the south-eastern long-eared bat.

The recently approved open cut coal mines, near Maules Creek, will destroy 3400 hectares of habitat of the Leard State Forest, which has an amazing diversity and abundance of woodland birds and bats and, as well, many sites of cultural significance for the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians.

Federation call

One of the world’s leading climate change thinkers, Bill McKibben, has argued that if we want to continue life on this planet, 80 per cent of the known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.

This means that Australia’s massive coal and coal seam gas expansion must not continue. The Maules Creek coal and Pilliga coal seam gas projects will transform north-west NSW into an industrial dustbowl and accelerate dangerous and extreme weather.

These environmental issues reach right into classrooms, prompting Federation to issue a call for action. The Lake Macquarie Teachers Association submitted the following motion to Federation’s March Council: “There are about 23,000 children and around 1000 teachers attending schools within 500 metres of the coal train corridor in the Hunter region, and there are at least nine schools within a kilometre of the coal stockpiles next to Newcastle Harbour. Fine particulate pollution emitted from the trains carrying coal is exceeding the health standards more often than not. The proposed fourth coal loader will exacerbate an already dire situation.

“No studies have been done on the health impacts on coal-affected communities despite repeated calls for decades for such a study of cancer clusters, chronic and acute respiratory illnesses, cleft palates, etc.”

At Federation’s May 31 Council meeting, the decision was made to issue this call: “Federation calls on the government to support the people of the Hunter by requiring all coal wagons to be covered, and to reject the unnecessary proposed fourth coal loader for Newcastle Harbour.”

Governments need to listen to the 87 per cent of people who want coal mining and coal seam gas banned in water catchments and near rivers and wetlands.

The Nature Conservation Council campaign — Our Land, Our Water, Our Future — brings traditional owners, farmers, environmental, religious and community groups, across NSW, together to oppose the coal and coal seam gas mining juggernaut.

It demands no-go zones for coal and coal seam gas in water catchments, productive agricultural land and high value conservation areas.

Those interested in joining the Our Land, Our Water, Our Future campaign should contact the Nature Conservation Council or (02) 9516 1488, or visit the campaign website.