It is indicative of the ‘who cares’ policy approach of the New South Wales Greens that they now want the State’s only natural gas supply shut down.
East Coast manufacturers and other businesses are feeling the pressure of tight gas supply right now. But the Greens want to make it worse by closing down existing supply and stopping the development proposed at Narrabri, in the State’s north-west.
The Federal Government, the ACCC, union and manufacturing industry representatives have all warned that tens of thousands of jobs are at risk if the problem of tight gas supply is not addressed with new sources.
At present, NSW gets about 5% of its natural gas needs from a coal-seam gas operation at Camden, just to the south of Sydney. The rest comes from interstate – predominantly offshore Victoria and onshore South Australia.
The proposed Narrabri development could make a huge difference and provide reassurance for tens of thousands of workers and business owners. It is understood to be big enough to supply half the State’s needs for 30 years or more.
But Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham this week declared that NSW should “ban unconventional gas altogether”. He was responding to a NSW Government agency project risk assessment which identified similar risks as those already noted in the proposal Environmental Impact Statement.
The assessment process for the Narrabri proposal is probably the most thorough and interrogative ever undertaken by the State Government. To say it is extensive is possibly an understatement.
But if Mr Buckingham were to have his way, the Government would not even bother. It would just say no – and shut down existing supply as well.
To adopt Mr Buckingham’s “no” to unconventional gas, NSW would have to stop taking South Australian gas and wuld have to shut down its existing Camden supply as well.
The result of this ‘who cares’ approach would be catastrophic for NSW business, jobs and consumers.
Manufacturing employers would shut down en masse, thousands of restaurants and cafes would be unable to cook their food and millions of consumers would be having cold showers and eating microwave-heated food. Energy prices would skyrocket.
To take a step back, the natural gas millions of us have used for the past century is the same gas, whether extracted using ‘conventional’ or ‘unconventional’ techniques. The product is the same; only the technique to extract it differs.
Industry people generally regard ‘unconventional’ to include use of hydraulic stimulation (otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ as the activists call it, so that they can tell the industry to “frack off”).
Coal-seam gas can be extracted without hydraulic stimulation, as it first was more than 100 years ago in Roma, in south-west Queensland. In the same area, CSG is again being tapped, this time, in many (but not all) cases, using hydraulic fracturing – a process which uses water pressure to create tiny hairline cracks in the coalbed to release natural gas.
This has been going on in south-west Queensland now for a decade. There has been no ecological calamity. Camden has been operating safely on Sydney’s outskirts for 17 years – again without the “environmental disaster” Mr Buckingham says will be the result of any new development.
CSG co-exists with agriculture in Queensland and NSW. Thousands of farmers are earning new facility-hosting income while continuing their regular farming or grazing activities. Horse-riding and agistment properties operate happily around the gas wells at Camden, as urban housing draws closer and closer, apparently free from the fear Mr Buckingham tries to whip up.
On the back of CSG development in south-west Queensland, farmers and local businesses are better off and regional towns like Roma now have new employment options for graduating schoolkids, who were previously drifting away from their hometowns.
In addition, 40,000 jobs were created and a new export industry established, converting the CSG to liquefied natural gas (LNG) for Asia and earning important royalties for the Queensland Government and export income for the Commonwealth.
Notwithstanding the readily available evidence of the mistruth of Mr Buckingham’s alarmism, the NSW Government commissioned the State’s Chief Scientist, Professor Mary O’Kane, to investigate the claims.
Prof. O’Kane conducted an in-depth, 18-month investigation into CSG and came to the conclusion that there was “a lot of misinformation” about the industry and that it was no more dangerous than any other extractive industry. With appropriate regulation (which exists in every State, not just NSW), the industry had the ‘green light’.
The Greens were incensed at this finding and did their utmost to discredit Prof. O’Kane and her investigation, completed almost two years ago.
Mr Buckingham has been on the warpath ever since. And his latest “ban it” calls make even less sense now than they did two years ago.