THE Hunter Valley’s wineries and horse studs will be off-limits from coal seam gas drilling, but equally valuable agricultural land, including the Liverpool Plains, has failed to win the same protection.
Yesterday, NSW Resources Minister Brad Hazzard announced what he described as the “toughest CSG controls in Australia”, announcing a ban on new coal seam gas drilling within 2km of existing residential zones across the state and quarantining more than 800 viticulture and equine properties from CSG activities in the Upper Hunter.
He also announced 2.8 million hectares of the state’s most valuable agricultural land had been earmarked “strategic land”, which will require CSG companies to have their plans for any of this land reviewed by a “gateway panel” made up of six state-appointed groundwater, agricultural and mining representatives.
Mr Hazzard said the changes meant “greater protection for more than five million hectares of residential and farming land across the state”, but farmer and Greens groups have argued valuable agricultural land should have been given the same “off-limits” status as enterprises in the Upper Hunter.
“Why would land that supports cattle and crops be worth less than that supporting horses,” Tambar Springs farmer and anti-CSG activist David Quince said yesterday.
Fellow activist and Liverpool Plains farmer Tim Duddy agreed.
“They’ve protected thoroughbreds and housing and wineries but our incredibly important and significant agricultural land has been left without protection,” he said.
“That’s not to say they shouldn’t be protected, but what on earth are we talking about when we don’t protect our farming land.”
Despite the government’s reassurances, Mr Duddy has no faith in the “strategic land” classification.
“The Liverpool Plains needs a fence around it so it’s immune from this ridiculous process.”
Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham argued the gateway process still allowed mining on prime agricultural land and there were many productive or sensitive environments where it wouldn’t even apply.
Existing projects and land owned by the gas companies wouldn’t be captured under the new proposal either, he said.
Farmers and green groups weren’t the only critics yesterday either, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association saying the NSW government was discouraging development.
Criticism from both sides of the fence was music to the ears of the government.
“It sounds as though we’ve achieved the balance we want and no system’s ever perfect,” Premier Barry O’Farrell said.