Water watch for gas battlefields

WATER monitoring in three of the state’s coal seam gas hotspots, including the Gunnedah basin, will be stepped up in a bid to ease concerns about the industry’s impact on the environment.

The NSW government has announced a new framework to map, monitor and protect groundwater resources across the state, but it has already come in for criticism for not going far enough.

The NSW Office of Water will drill additional bores and introduce advanced computer modelling to provide baseline water assessments of the Gloucester, Gunnedah and Clarence Moreton basins, three regions where CSG developers have faced fierce local opposition.

“Once complete, this mapping will provide real-time data from bores across these basins that will be used as an ‘early warning system’ to quickly identify threats to water resources, tackle the causes and prevent future problems,” Water Minister Kevin Humphries said.

Phase one will see 10 bores drilled at five sites at a cost of 

$3.1 million, with the second phase involving 12 bores at six sites with a bill of $4.3 million.

Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts said whether water was being used for agricultural, mining or household use, it was crucial to continue to investigate and monitor activity within the basins.

“The Water Monitoring Framework will provide NSW with honest, independent and consistent oversight and further strengthen the toughest regulations for mining and gas in Australia,” he said.

The Lock the Gate Alliance has welcomed the new groundwater research program, but said the missing part of the government’s approach was clear exclusion zones to protect groundwater sources and drinking water catchments from mining.

NSW coordinator Georgina Woods said monitoring was only one side of the coin when it came to water and mining policy and regulation - the other side was protection.

“Rather than continuing to dribble out bits and pieces of policy to better regulate mining and coal seam gas, it would be great to see the government deliver a comprehensive policy approach that safeguards water resources for the long-term,” she said.

‘Data welcome but must tick the boxes’

NSW Farmers has welcomed the new monitoring framework as a crucial step in ensuring the coal seam gas industry doesn’t harm agricultural land and water.

Association president Fiona Simson said it aligned with a key policy passed at the NSW Farmers’ annual conference in July and was an “excellent starting point” in the process of mapping underground water and developing baseline water profiles.

“We have been highlighting the importance of comprehensive baseline water, soil and air studies in areas affected by exploration activities for some time,” she said.

“What’s important now is accessibility, transparency and reliability of data as well as a full understanding of the suite of testing to be undertaken.

“There’s no point having monitoring bores if the community aren’t aware of the information that is available, and if the data isn’t comprehensive enough, particularly as it relates to quality as well as consumptive use. We will want to make sure that those boxes are ticked.”

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