Looking behind a best practice ‘review’

December 11th, 2014

A new report from the NSW Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) about Coal Seam Gas regulation in NSW is worth an examination – if only to examine possible motives and funding behind the paper.

The EDO is not a disinterested observer in this matter – while claiming to be an independent community legal centre specialising in public interest environmental law, EDO staff have run legal cases against the gas industry and have appeared to defend activists facing charges for illegal protest activities on numerous occasions.

The EDO is publicly funded through the Federal and NSW Governments, through grants and donations, including a recent large donation from a former State Greens MP.

The paper was prepared for the environmental group Our Land Our Water Our Future , which in itself is little more than a front for a collective of activist organisations, including The Sunrise Project (who own the Our Land Our Water Our Future website domain), Lock the Gate and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

The forward to the report sets the tone for the rest of the document, stating, without any reference or evidence that:

Coal seam gas mining represents a risk to water resources, food production and community health and well-being. It is an unsafe and invasive industry that expands rapidly across vast areas.” (page 2)

While admitting that the ‘review’ was ‘not designed to be comprehensive’ (and it sure ain’t!), the diatribe continues:

It is clear from this paper that the NSW Gas Plan, and the proposed new regulatory regime proposed by the NSW Government, is nothing like ‘world class’ in its current form. Major improvements will be needed to deliver a genuine ‘world class’ outcome” (page 2)

The paper goes on to list a number of snippets, collected via a desktop review and a search engine, of what ‘best practice’ allegedly looks like.

The first one is a corker – the EDO crew nominate a ban on hydraulic fracturing in France and a partial ban in Germany as best practice.

That’s not best practice – its regulatory intervention to shut down an industry.

As our colleagues at Shale Gas Europe point out, the German experience could lead to a delay in bringing new energy sources online, pushing prices higher and increasing that country’s reliance on coal and energy imports.

In NSW, where gas supply shortages are predicted within three years, there is no way that a ban on hydraulic fracturing could be considered best practice.

The report goes on to list a number of other perceived ‘shortcomings’ in the recently released NSW Gas Plan – which was developed after the NSW Government adopted all the recommendations of the Chief Scientist in the final report of the Independent Review of Coal Seam Gas activities in New South Wales.

That review, which took more than eighteen months to complete, and which was informed by a raft of expert scientific, technical, regulatory and legal expert studies and reports, is the most comprehensive examination of the CSG industry ever undertaken in Australia – and covers much more ground than a desktop review commissioned by an activist group.

It seems the EDO want to entrench their own ideology into applicable legislation – despite the fact that under the NSW Gas Plan developers in the State will be required to adhere to some of the most stringent environmental requirements in the country.

The conclusion says:

” Coal seam gas laws in NSW are complex.”

Yes, they are – and the Gas Plan aims to address that fact, providing certainty through a revised regulatory framework.

Adopting the results and recommendations of a desktop review would only add to the complexity.

Footnote:

The paper, released in late November, received only minimal media coverage – including this report from the Sydney Morning Herald which, not for the first time, uses a misleading image of a ‘nodding donkey’ oil pump to illustrate a story about natural gas.

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