Coal seam gas concerns must be taken seriously (03/11/2011)

CSG.jpgCommunity concerns at the rapid expansion of the coal seam gas industry cannot be ignored.

This week the parliament is seized of a package of bills which gives us the opportunity to revisit the way we are managing our natural resource bounty.

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill and associated bills are all about ensuring that we manage our natural resources in a way that provides benefit to all Australians, not just those who happen to be working in or involved with the minerals and mining industry but all Australians, now and into the future.

The nature of this debate has also brought with it a focus on how we deal with the future exploitation of coal seam gas.

I know this is of interest to you, Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore, as it is to many people in my electorate of Throsby and within the broader Illawarra region.

Coal seam gas is a naturally occurring methane gas in and around coal seams. It is produced by drilling a well into a coal seam and allowing the release of that naturally occurring gas. Sometimes that release is induced by reducing the water pressure and using a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Coal seam gas is not a new industry. We have been exploiting coal seam gas for close on 30 years. There has been commercial exploitation of methane gas in coal mines around the Illawarra for over 20 years.

However, the rapid pace at which coal seam gas is being exploited, particularly in your home state, Madam Deputy Speaker, has given rise to many concerns, and the prospect that it will be further expanded in my electorate and in the broader Illawarra region has given rise to even greater concern.

I was a supporter of a recent community gathering where several thousand people gathered in the northern Illawarra to express their concern about the exploitation of coal seam gas reserves in the Illawarra region.

Coalmining has been at the centre of economic development and jobs growth in the Illawarra region for well over 100 years, so it is not as though the local residents are opposed to coalmining—they simply are not—but we are concerned that the coal seam gas industry be developed in a way that does not damage irreparably our water tables and so cause damage to other parts of the natural environment.

The rapid development of this industry and the coal industry in general is bringing into sharp relief competition around land-use strategies. State governments of all political persuasions are going to have to do a far better job than they have done in the recent past.

They simply cannot kick this can down the road, and we are going to have to intervene to ensure that we are exploiting our natural resources in a way that does not damage irreparably our natural environment and that we still have land set aside for agricultural purposes well into the future.

I would be very interested to hear some of the solutions proposed by those opposite. They would be as aware as people in my electorate that coal seam gas cannot be wished away.

It currently provides around 30 per cent of natural gas supplies for eastern Australia. For those members representing electorates in and around South-East Queensland, around 90 per cent of the natural gas supply for Brisbane and surrounding areas comes from coal seam gas.

It is the concern of people in my electorate that, as we exploit these natural resources, as we continue to look for ways of abating methane gas within coalmines around the Illawarra region and as we look for new and alternative less carbon intensive sources of energy, we do it in a way that manages both the energy security interests and the land use interests.

I look forward to engaging in this debate on behalf of the constituents that I represent in the electorate of Throsby.

Speech to Parliament 3 November 2011 - Adjournment - Coal Seam Gas