DEA celebrates Sydney water catchment protection

Big Win to Protect the Special Protected Areas of the Sydney Water Catchment – Extension of Licence to Drill 16 Exploratory Wells in the Illawarra Refused

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) is pleased that the coal seam gas (CSG) project proposed for a protected area in the Illawarra region has been rejected. The project was opposed by several groups including Stop CSG Illawarra, Wollongong Council and Illawarra Aborgoinal Land Council, whilst DEA maintained that The Apex Energy proposal was a threat to the drinking water and posed unacceptable risks to people’s health.

The community is rightly celebrating the protection of their water and land after a long campaign to have its interests and health protected.  Sydney Catchment Authority is responsible for ensuring the protection of drinking water quality and also opposed Apex Energy’s proposal.

DEA applauds the NSW planning decision and congratulates NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell for making the right decision in this case. We hope that many more environmentally responsible and scientifically sound decisions are to follow.

A summary of DEA’s involvement in this win:

DEA has played – and will continue to play – an important role in ensuring Apex Energy is not permitted to drill 16 previously approved exploratory wells for coal seam gas in the Special Protected Areas of Sydney’s water catchment in the Northern Illawarra.

The initially approved 3-year licence expired in September 2012, leading Apex Energy to lodge an application for an extension of time and a call for public submissions by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.

DEA submitted an objection to the proposal. Due to the large number of public submissions raising objections, the Planning and Assessment Commission commenced a detailed investigation of the potential risks and harms associated with the project.

DEA members, Associate Professor Melissa Haswell and Nimna DeSilva, represented both DEA and PHAA at a Planning and Assessment Commission meeting in Helensburgh on February 13, 2013:

At the meeting, the Planning and Assessment Commissioners (PAC) requested a copy of the presentation and further information. Three jointly signed DEA/PHAA follow up letters were sent to the Commission during their deliberation period.

DEA also received substantial media interest, including the Illawarra Mercury, ABC website and an extended interview on ABC Illawarra radio.

After months of follow up investigation, the PAC released their report on July 10, 2013. This included references to a number of points made by DEA about health concerns, and a significant report by the Sydney Catchment Authority highlighting “the real and potential risks to the Special Areas and Sydney’s water supply”.  The PAC concluded:

“The Commission has found it would be inappropriate to approve the proposed coal seam gas activities in Sydney’s drinking water catchment Special Areas:
• while the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer’s review (requested by the NSW Government) is underway; and
• before the Government’s resulting policy conclusions are formulated.”

As encouraging as this refusal is, Sydney’s water catchment area does not yet enjoy permanent protection from CSG (nor longwall coal) mining. Hence DEA has continued to act with a substantial submission and the NSW Chief Scientist’s Initial Report has just been released.

The NSW DEA Committee has also provided a submission to the ‘once in a generation’ NSW Planning White Paper that will determine decision making processes on all planning proposals, including mining, for the coming decades.

Congratulations to all those involved and keep up the great work!

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