O'Farrell bans coal seam gas mining under Campbelltown 

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The state government has caved in to people power, announcing a ban on CSG mining within two kilometres of residential areas — and that means our own city, which has led the fight. Megan Gorrey reports.

PREMIER Barry O’Farrell has banned coal seam gas activity within two kilometres of residential and future growth areas.

The NSW Cabinet endorsed the buffer zone, along with tighter industry regulations, on Monday night in response to unrelenting opposition from local residents and politicians.

The ban should put an end to AGL’s temporarily-shelved plans to expand its Camden Gas Project by drilling 66 coal seam gas wells beneath most local suburbs.

It might also tighten the Liberal grip on western Sydney voters, with Mr O’Farrell keen to hold on to the seats he won in 2011.

Wollondilly MP Jai Rowell called it a win for the community: ‘‘AGL’s plans of mining underneath homes cannot go ahead. It can’t happen.’’

Mr Rowell, Campbelltown MP Bryan Doyle and Camden MP Chris Patterson have been vocal opponents of CSG mining in the area.

Their concerns were echoed by Macquarie Fields Labor state MP Andrew McDonald and Federal MPs Russell Matheson (Macarthur) and Laurie Ferguson (Werriwa).

‘‘This is this is a very serious, strong way we’ll be able to protect the community and allay the community’s concerns over coal seam gas,’’ Mr Rowell told the Advertiser yesterday.

‘‘We’ve been very vocal from day one about this and we’re very excited they’ve listened to the people of Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly.’’

The ban will apply to any coal seam gas proposal that has yet to be approved under the Environment Protection and Assessment Act or the Petroleum (Onshore) Act.

Chief Scientist and Engineer Mary O’Kane will prepare a report into the state’s coal seam gas activity and its impacts to be handed down in July.

A new Office of Coal Seam Gas Regulation will also be established.

AGL announced it would suspend its plans for the expansion on February 8 due to ‘‘community concerns’’.

An AGL spokeswoman said in a statement the proposed ban would add to the state’s ‘‘gas supply crisis’’.

‘‘The absence of multiple new sources of supply in NSW will add to substantial upward pressure on gas and electricity prices in the state.

‘‘Natural gas production from coal seams in NSW remains a low impact and low risk industry.’’  

The spokeswoman said the company would seek an urgent meeting with Premier O’Farrell and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner to clarify the proposal details.

Scenic Hills Association spokeswoman Jacqui Kirkby said the buffer would mean most of the hills and Campbelltown’s suburbs were a ‘‘no-go zone’’, but more detail was needed.

‘‘The devil’s in the details and we need to see the bill they’re putting up — what does two kilometres mean? What’s the definition of residential?’’

Ms Kirkby said the announcement was ‘‘policy on the run’’ in the lead-up to September’s federal election.

‘‘The federal election is going to be won or lost in western Sydney and this was doing damage to the Liberal Party,’’ she said. ‘‘People have underestimated Campbelltown, we’ve been treated like the poor cousin. But we’ve all achieved something here no-one else has achieved.’’

What do make of the announcement?