GLOUCESTER Basin could be one of the first areas studied as part of efforts to set standards for coal seam gas projects.
Independent federal MP Rob Oakeshott has asked federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to make Gloucester and the Manning Valley ‘‘priorities’’ for the recently set up interim expert scientific committee on coal seam gas.
“There is significant community concern about the potential for coal seam gas wells to contaminate underground water, creeks and rivers throughout the Mid-Coast Water and Hunter-Central Rivers catchment,” Mr Oakeshott said.
“AGL’s coal seam gas wells in the Gloucester Valley were approved by the state government without any consultation with the water supply authority, Mid-Coast Water, with 50,000 downstream water users in the Manning who rely on the catchment for clean drinking water,’’ he said.
Mid-Coast Water chairman John Weate said the county council was not invited to make a submission on the project in what he described as an ‘‘oversight’’ by the NSW Department of Planning.
Mr Weate said Mid-Coast Water made a late submission to the department asking for a hold on the project’s approval process until more information on its impact was available.
Last year, as part of negotiations over the mining tax, Mr Oakeshott and fellow independent Tony Windsor secured money to research coal seam gas so projects could receive independent scientific assessment.
A scientific committee has been set up, chaired by head of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training Professor Craig Simmons.
The committee will conduct independent research to help answer scientific questions about the impact of coal seam gas mining on water and to make those findings public, Mr Oakeshott said.
The committee’s first task would be to identify priority areas for scientific study, he said.
“The appointment of an interim committee is an early opportunity to have Gloucester and the Manning considered as a priority area for this long-overdue scientific assessment,” he said.
AGL has approval for the 110-well stage one of the Gloucester Gas Project that proposes about 300 wells.
The development is on hold while the company finds a water hydrogeology expert to review its water studies for stage one.