MACARTHUR'S state Liberal politicians say they are confident plans to drill 66 coal seam gas wells near local homes will be adequately scrutinised, as concerns of residents and Campbelltown Council continue to mount.
AGL Energy wants to erect 11 wellheads in the city's western suburbs, near Kearns, Varroville and Eschol Park, with underground gas-gathering lines that will travel underneath much of the city of Campbelltown as part of the Camden Gas Project's northern expansion.
Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham last week told the Advertiser he believed local residents were being used as "guinea pigs" to test what could become the first gas field to operate in a residential area in Australia. The subsurface project area stretches from Ingleburn CBD to Camden CBD and as far south as St Helens Park and Rosemeadow. Bushland gorges around The Woolwash, and the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan, also fall into the survey area.
The only Campbelltown suburbs that lie outside the zone are Glenfield, Macquarie Fields, Minto, Minto Heights, Kentlyn, Menangle Park and Gilead.
The Department of Planning and Infrastructure has announced plans will be assessed under the new state significant development system, rather than the controversial Part 3A legislation.
Residents have less than three weeks to make submissions before the public exhibition period ends on December 18.
Scenic Hills Association member Jacqui Kirkby said the new system would strip residents of the right to challenge any decision made about the project in the NSW Land and Environment Court.
Ms Kirkby was also critical of Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, who appeared to make light of resident's concerns in TV news interviews at the weekend.
Campbelltown MP Bryan Doyle, Wollondilly MP Jai Rowell and Camden MP Chris Patterson believe the new system will allow for a more transparent approval process that involves the community.
But Mr Doyle said he stood by his opinion that coal seam gas mining did not belong in residential areas.
"For me it's about appropriate land use, there are some things you don't mix with residential areas," he said.
He encouraged concerned residents to attend upcoming briefing sessions and to make submissions.
Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said claims coal seam gas could operate safely in residential areas were "utter bullshit". "This is an absolute disgrace and a slap in the face by the Minister of Western Sydney, Barry O'Farrell, to the people of Campbelltown.
"This removes the community's right to appeal this decision in the Land and Environment Court, it takes away their right to test this decision in the courts and it's disempowering for people who've had toxic coal seam gas foist upon them.
"The people of Campbelltown have spoken — they do not want this."
Campbelltown Council's planning and environment director Jeff Lawrence said the council still had concerns over the proposed expansion.
"We believe the assessment requirements under the state significant development are not too dissimilar to the Part 3A system," he said.
"We anticipate there's not going to be any great changes in the assessment process under the SSD.
"We're absolutely hoping that whenever this is assessed that they take into account the government's Aquifer Interference Policy.
"We would look forward to presenting our feelings and concerns to the Planning Assessment Commission and a public hearing."
AGL says the project would help secure reliability of gas supply to AGL's NSW customers and create jobs.
"AGL has taken on board previous concerns about the project and made modifications to the current plan to account for these," a spokeswoman said.
"AGL is extremely proud of this project and transitioning to SSD will not only provide a better platform for community acceptance, but provide greater project certainty."
Campbelltown Council reaffirmed its position against CSG mining and will ask that any new coal seam gas exploration and mining applications be approved by the council.
■THE controversial documentary Gasland will screen in Campbelltown next week. The 2010 film highlighted the impact of natural gas drilling, particularly fracking, on communities in the United States.
The Macarthur Future Food Forum and the Scenic Hills Association will present the special screening between 6.30 and 8.30pm next Wednesday, December 5 at Dumaresq Street Cinema.
Speakers will include Peter Martin from the Southern Highlands Coal Action Group, Jacqui Kirkby from the Scenic Hills Association and Sue Gordon from the Macarthur Future Food Forum. They will answer questions about plans for CSG mining in the Macarthur region.
CONCERNED residents who want to know more can attend an information session in Campbelltown next weekend.
■The Scenic Hills Association will hold drop-in sessions on AGL's proposed northern expansion of the Camden Gas Project between 11am and 1pm on Saturday, December 8, at Campbelltown's main HJ Daley Library. The NSW Planning Department has called for public submissions on AGL's application. Scenic Hills Association members will show residents how they can make a submission before the closing date of Tuesday, December 18.
Details: The plans for stage three of the Camden Gas Project's northern expansion can be viewed at majorprojects.planning.nsw.gov.au.
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