Another activist action fails in court

August 5th, 2016

Yet another attempt by an activist group to shut down a legally approved coal seam gas exploration project has failed.

The NSW Land and Environment Court this week dismissed a case bought by Lock the Gate affiliate group People for the Plains, who claimed that the construction of a wastewater treatment plant in the Pilliga region was unlawful because it was approved without a full environmental assessment.

It’s a complex case – which at its simplest revolved around whether the appropriate approvals were in place for the wastewater treatment plant to be constructed as part of the exploration phase of the Narrabri Gas Project.

The motivation behind the case is easy to see –   a blatant blocking action which is part of the wider tactics used by activist groups to try and delay and disrupt infrastructure projects.

In the ruling the Court found that:

In the LEC proceedings, I am satisfied that, for the reasons set out:

  1. the Leewood Project in part, is properly characterised as being for the purpose of the activity of petroleum exploration and is, thus, permitted by the provisions of cl 6(c) of the Mining SEPP without development consent; and
  2. the Lucerne cropping activities proposed for PAL 2 are a separate and distinct use properly characterised as “extensive agriculture” for the purposes of the Narrabri LEP and thus do not require consent under that instrument.

As a consequence, there is no need to consider the potential operation of either the Infrastructure SEPP or the assessment requirements of or consent processes under the Narrabri LEP.

It therefore follows that these proceedings, too, should be dismissed.

Putting aside the absurdity of a group objecting to a facility that will treat water for beneficial reuse, it’s a case that demonstrates the  tactics that anti-development activists roll out time and time again as they try to stymie legally approved projects.

The use of legal challenges is one of the tactics documented by environmental activist groups in their Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom strategy.

While the strategy is firmly aimed at the coal industry, there’s increasing use of the tactics in actions against the gas industry.

For example, a key element of the strategy is a commitment to ‘disrupt and delay key infrastructure’ by challenging and delaying the development of key infrastructure projects.

The NSW Environmental Defenders Office has run a number of cases for activist groups in recent years, both in NSW and in Queensland.

While touting for donations to fund legal actions, it’s also worth noting that the EDO receives a significant amount of its annual funding – almost 44% of revenue last financial year by their own financial reporting – from the NSW Government and the Public Purpose Fund, leading to the question of whether the EDO is using public funds to run cases against the gas industry both in and outside NSW.

They’ve even gone into bat on matters in the Great Australian Bight, and currently have another case on foot against Santos in Queensland.

Of course, this week’s Land and Environment Court ruling has been met with the expected level of outrage from activist groups.

Perhaps they should direct some of their outraged energy into reading, understand and accepting the scientific evidence and expert opinions that clearly state that the gas industry can be safely developed with the right regulatory framework in place.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – it’s time to unlock the gate.

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