The residents of Fullerton Cove, just north of Newcastle, are firmly opposed to coal seam gas drilling in the area. This is clearly shown by the fact that just about every house in the suburb has a “Lock the Gate” triangle nailed to the front fence.
Fullerton Cove, in the Port Stephens local government area, sits within the Tomago-Stockton coastal aquifer that supplies 20% to 25% of the Lower Hunter’s drinking water supply.
Dart Energy has proposed coal seam gas drilling and extraction in the area, which would place the drinking water supply at risk of irreversible contamination.
In December last year, Port Stephens Council unanimously resolved to urge the state government that “no further exploration be permitted until such time as the impact of coal gas exploration is known.”
More recently, Newcastle City Council unanimously resolved to write to the state government expressing its concern about coal seam gas drilling at Fullerton Cove, joining calls for a moratorium on coal seam gas operations within the Tomago-Stockton sandbeds.
Despite opposition from the local community and the local councils, the State Government gave Dart Energy the green light to go ahead with its drilling program on World Environment Day.
The proposed coal seam gas operation will put at risk the neighbouring internationally-significant Ramsar wetlands, threatened flora, fauna and migratory species as well as the Tomago-Stockton sandbeds.
The Independent Expert Scientific Committee set up by the Federal Government recognised that there was a ‘lack of data about potential impacts of coal seam gas operations on the Ramsar site’ but recommended concurrence anyway. The committee did not even consider the impacts on the drinking water aquifer or the floodplain.
Risk is the likelihood that an adverse impact may occur; because it is probability based, it can never be zero. It would be ludicrous to say that an activity that has a conceivable impact “poses no risk”. But that is exactly what Hunter Water Corporation, the local water authority, have said in a letter to Dart Energy.
There is a risk that the proposed coal seam gas operation would
i.) inter-connect the upper level aquifer (where we get our drinking water from) and the lower level aquifer and therefore drain the upper level aquifer – this could occur in the drilling process or after an earthquake or some other event;
ii.) affect the water quality in the upper level aquifer during the drilling process or during the operation phase – this could be from the drilling chemicals used or the chemicals released from the coal bed or by cross-contamination of the water tables;
iii.) affect the ecosystems of the area by reducing the natural water table and by contaminating the area – this could include gas migrating from the coal beds due to the operation or gas released from the operation itself;
iv.) contaminate the area due to the risks of treating, storing and disposing of the contaminated water brought to the surface during the drilling and operation;
v.) create a pathway for future contamination of the aquifer; and,
vi.) create risks in neighbouring areas, as the operation is based on a floodplain, including health risks.
These risks should be quantified and made publicly available. Despite these risks, the State Government approved the project releasing a media statement saying, “the proposed activity would not impact water resources.”
Water tests recently carried out on a coal seam gas operation in the Pillega Forest (conducted by a NATA accredited Laboratory) detected heavy metals much higher than natural levels: lead 25 times natural levels, arsenic 21 times natural levels and chromium 37 times natural levels.
The State Government has failed to effectively regulate the coal seam gas industry and protect valuable assets such as prime agricultural land and drinking water supplies.
Despite numerous spills of toxic coal seam gas water, the migration of methane into river systems in Queensland and the dewatering of important groundwater supplies, the risks involved with coal seam gas extraction continue to be ignored by the Federal and State governments alike.
Fullerton Cove and the Tomago-Stockton sandbeds must be protected from such risky activities.
Apologies for the sound quality. The wind, as you can see in the banner, was a force of nature on the morning of shooting.
Click on the links below to see maps of the area.
Click on the image below for more photos of the Lock The Gate campaign at Fullerton Cove
Newcastle Greens Councillor and candidate for Ward 1 Michael Osborne.