Coal seam gas wells about to spread out

Jacqui Kirkby in front of a coal seam gas well near the Nepean River. A genernic AGL coal seam gas well. Picture: Edwina Pickles.
Jacqui Kirkby in front of a coal seam gas well near the Nepean River. A genernic AGL coal seam gas well. Picture: Edwina Pickles.

OPPONENTS of coal seam gas mining in Campbelltown say the state government's decision to approve a host of mining licences and to lift a ban on fracking has opened the floodgates to the expansion of the industry in the region.

When the state government released its strategic regional land use plan earlier this month it also approved another 22 pending coal seam gas drilling licences across NSW.

One of those was petroleum exploration licence number 2, held by gas company AGL, which stretches from Campbelltown to the Hills district in Sydney's north-west.

AGL began operating the first coal seam gas well approved under the O'Farrell government a few weeks ago. It is on the banks of the Nepean River and close to homes in Menangle Park.

A further 72 new AGL coal seam gas wells are now planned for the area near Campbelltown's Scenic Hills.

Scenic Hills Association spokeswoman Jacqui Kirkby said the strategic regional land use plan raised serious concerns about the future of the coal seam gas industry in urban areas like Campbelltown, which fell under the Sydney metropolitan plan.

"This opens the way for AGL to proceed with its application to put an initial 72 wells across Campbelltown's Scenic Hills protection zone, and in Camden's new urban release areas along Camden Valley Way from Narellan in the south to East Leppington in the north."

"The problem is, once these areas are industrialised, they are opened up to further industrialisation," she said.

Ms Kirkby also questioned the government's decision to lift a ban on the controversial fracking technique. "As at December last year about 85 per cent of the Camden Gas Project has been fracked. AGL has developed this horizontal drilling but it's very new and experimental and they've said they could frack horizontal wells in the future."

The NSW Department of Trade and Investment said the licence renewals did not mean drilling would start straight away, and the likely short-term outcome was an increased number of "test" wells being drilled before full-scale commercial gas production was considered.

Campbelltown Council condemned the Menangle Park gas well due to water contamination concerns and called for a moratorium.

AGL said more recent assessments by independent consultants had all but ruled out cross-contamination of underground aquifers. The company said many gas wells had been drilled nearby without contaminating water.