The science is in – coal seam gas has been, and can continue to be, safely harnessed for the good of consumers, jobs and gas-dependent NSW manufacturing. That is the finding of the NSW Chief Scientist, after a comprehensive 18-month study.
Professor O’Kane’s finding is not surprising. There are decades of history overseas, 20 years in Queensland and a 13-year record in NSW. As Prof O’Kane reported, the technology is mature and the technical practices well understood.
The surprising thing about the Chief Scientists’ report is the reaction of the activists – who simply refuse to accept it.
Choosing to ignore the overall conclusion – an appropriately cautious and measured green light — they focus on the observation that there are risks. ‘Aha!’ Say the activists. ‘The Chief Scientist says there are risks – this vindicates our contention that the industry ought to be shut down’!
Of course there are risks – what industrial, manufacturing, mining or extractive process is risk-free? Even agricultural has its risks — as many environmental activists happily point out when they are not trying to curry favour with farmers.
The point is that the Chief Scientist has carefully assessed the risks, over 18 months, and has concluded that they are not high and are entirely manageable.
A very constructive aspect of Prof O’Kane’s report is that it aims to pave a way forward, “…building trust in the wider community”, to assist the development of “…an industry which can have significant economic benefits”.
It is a laudable endeavour and the primary focus of the report’s recommendations. Carefully gathering data, learning from experience and “…taking advantage of technological developments…can make CSG production increasingly safer and more efficient over time” the report says.
Prof O’Kane acknowledges that the data gathering and monitoring tasks in the report recommendations will present a significant challenge to industry operators. Compliance burden is generally resisted by business for obvious time and cost reasons. However, in this case, I expect industry will be willing to work through the issues in the interest of achieving the broader trust envisaged by the report.
A centralisation to a single regulatory authority (with all necessary information feeding groups) is also likely to be a welcome change from the existing five-agency labyrinth for extraction approvals.
A downside of the thorough nature of the report is the time it has taken. We are now two years closer to a gas shortage in NSW which unions and manufacturing organisations say could seriously hurt consumers and manufacturers and cost thousands of jobs. And this is an issue for agri-business as well as manufacturing – many dairy, pork, chicken and fish farming operations are big users of gas energy. These will be the collateral damage victims, if the campaign to shut down fossil fuels is allowed to continue to thwart gas extraction, and thereby undermine the State’s energy security.
It is now time to allow our gas resources to be responsibly developed, to try to mitigate the effects of the looming consumer, manufacturing and agribusiness price hike which is the consequence of a choking of natural gas supply in NSW. The Chief Scientist has confirmed that this can occur safely. And she has described a path to do it efficiently and for the benefit of the entire community.