The Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) recently gave the final go ahead for a controversial borehole to be drilled in the Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA) Special Area in the face of opposition from local councils and residents. Apex Energy says the newly approved borehole will be one of the first to be drilled in its exploratory coal seam gas project in the Illawarra.
The Department of Planning and Infrastructure recommended borehole AI19 be approved in October. However, it referred the decision to the PAC after more than 1000 submissions against the proposal were received.
Chris Lawrence from Apex Energy spoke to New Matilda about the company’s plans.
"We anticipate AI19 being one of the first of our next Illawarra exploration core holes to be drilled," he said.
"We are very pleased to have received approval from the PAC and do not foresee conditions as an impediment."
Despite widespread community opposition to the plan, the company says it undertook adequate consultation with locals. "We believe that we have always had open communication with the local community impacted by our proposed exploration activities, to a level appropriate for the minimal impact of those exploration activities," he said.
"Going forward, we intend to engage with the wider communities of the Illawarra and allay any concerns which they may have."
The decision means that Apex Energy now has 16 approved borehole sites on its exploration licenses in the Illawarra — eight of them on Special Area catchment land.
It is the only CSG operation in NSW on lands managed by the SCA for water quality.
Despite PAC approval, the company still requires landowner consent from the SCA before it can begin drilling. An SCA spokesperson told New Matilda that they are considering the conditions set out in the PAC’s determination.
Apex Energy also has plans to drill an exploratory borehole in the Warragamba catchment area, around 20 kilometres from Warragamba dam. The SCA was recently quoted as saying they remain confident no pollution of the water supply in the Warragamba catchment would occur if their recommendations were followed.
"We suggest these comments are relevant to any drilling activity which we may undertake in catchment areas," says Lawrence.
There were 17 locals who spoke against AI19 at a community forum in Helensburgh in October, many of whom urged the PAC to consider the borehole the first step in a full scale CSG extraction project.
In its determination, the PAC emphasised that AI19 could not be considered as anything more than a modification to an already approved project.
"Within the legal and administrative framework applying in this case, this application for modification should be determined on its merits alone, that is, as an exploratory borehole," said the PAC.
Peter Turner from the Northern Illawarra Sustainability Alliance says the PAC’s approach was shortsighted. "It’s not just an exploration project, it’s a mapping process for a production gas field," he told New Matilda.
"The community members I’ve spoken to so far are genuinely surprised and outraged by this decision … I think there was a sense that the PAC would decide to hold off a decision at least until the outcome of the NSW coal seam gas inquiry."
A parliamentary inquiry into coal seam gas drilling in NSW is currently underway. The NSW Government made a submission to the inquiry on the importance of gas drilling to the state’s energy needs.
Chris Lawrence says that the company hopes the CSG inquiry will take some pressure off the industry. "The broader CSG Industry has been placed under intense scrutiny, and we believe public opinion has been adversely affected by some inaccurate and exaggerated claims," he said.
Wollongong City Council recently called for a ban on all CSG mining within the whole of the local government area. It wiill address the parliamentary inquiry into CSG today in Bowral.
The parliamentary inquiry will hand down its report in April 2012.
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