A 60-DAY moratorium on new exploration licences for coal seam gas mining was announced over the weekend, following months of debate between mining companies, farmers, councils and environmentalists.
Lismore, Ballina, Byron and Kyogle councils, Rous Water and Northern Rivers Tourism have all pushed for the moratorium.
Just last week Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin also backed the calls, saying the community deserved more information about the “potential damaging effect on the community, environment and agriculture”.
She said the 60-day freeze on new exploration licences, announced by NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard on Friday night, was a good step forward.
“My approach has been that we need to put the brakes on a bit,” Ms Saffin said.
“We need some breathing space because there is just not enough information for people.”
In making the announcement, Mr Hazzard said exploration licence applications after the moratorium will need to be exhibited for public comment for the first time.
Applications for extraction licences must be accompanied by an agricultural impact statement.
Mr Hazzard also said regional strategic plans would be developed to deal with the issues in each area where mining exploration was being considered.
“These plans will provide local communities with far greater certainty about how their areas will change over time,” he told national media.
But The Greens' mining spokesperson, Jeremy Buckingham, said the government should extend its moratorium to a full 12 months.
He said it should also cover existing exploration operations, not just new licences.
“Sixty days is a token time and will not allow a thorough investigation into the health and sustainability of the coal and coal seam gas industry,” he said.
“The moratorium only seems to cover new exploration licences, not existing exploration and production activity.
“Given exploration licences already cover large swathes of NSW ... the moratorium will not stop existing exploration and production drilling or fracking operations.
“The coal and coal seam gas industry has massive plans for expansion in NSW.
“The government should not just do a few token gestures aimed at placating some of the concerned farmers and activists, it must conduct a thorough assessment of the industry before expansion is allowed.”
Mr Buckingham said The Greens' private members bill – Coal Seam Gas Moratorium Bill 2011 – would place a 12 month moratorium on the coal seam gas industry. A Special Commission of Inquiry would conduct an investigation into the effects on health, agriculture, water, biodiversity, environment and climate.
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