South West Sydney Under Threat

The following article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 10 November 2012, under the by-line of Ben Cubby.

Up to 66 coal seam gas wells would be drilled in south-west Sydney under a revised proposal being considered by the state's Planning Assessment Commission.

The gas company AGL wants clusters of six wells each at 11 sites between Campbelltown and Liverpool, many of them within a few hundred metres of suburban streets in Currans Hill, Varroville, Kearns, Eschol Park and Denham Court.

It is the first major coal seam gas plan assessed under new "state significant development" planning rules, and represents the first expansion of gas drilling into suburban Sydney.

The plan is opposed by some residents, but the company wants to fast track the project as a state significant development, after seeing it languish under the old Part 3A planning system.

It means that public hearings into the project will be held, but once a decision is made it will not be able to be challenged in the Land and Environment Court.

"It's a cynical move that will set precedents for the exploitation of CSG resources and fracking under Sydney's suburbs," said Jacqui Kirkby, of the local Scenic Hills Association, which is opposed to coal seam gas drilling in the district. "The danger of this being approved without the independent scrutiny of the courts can't be underestimated."

The residents are concerned that the horizontal drilling technique proposed for use at the site means that drilling could continue for more than two kilometres underground from the well site at the surface, underneath houses, motorways and other infrastructure.

"The NSW government and AGL clearly do not want the courts anywhere near this decision and all NSW residents should take note," Ms Kirkby said.

The Planning Department's acting director-general, Richard Pearson, said in a statement that the assessment process would be "rigorous and transparent" and involve the public.

"It also follows the release of a number of other stringent measures such as the Aquifer Interference Policy as part of the government's Strategic Regional Land Use Policy," he said.

"The PAC public hearings will also allow local residents and others to put their views directly and in person to the independent reviewers."

AGL has not ruled out the use of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, at the drill sites.

The practice involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to fracture coal seams and release more gas.

AGL said the new proposal included removing one cluster of wells from its initial plan after public complaints, and moved the locations of several others.

"All the proposed well site locations meet the mandatory distance criteria of at least 200m from an occupied dwelling," an AGL spokeswoman said.

"In response to the community concerns with the Part 3A process, AGL has made its application to transition to the new State Significant Development regime."

The plans will be on public exhibition until December 18.