A CSG protest rally in Murwillumbah last October.
A CSG protest rally in Murwillumbah last October. Blainey Woodham

Opinion piece: Why Tweed requires special CSG protection

THE pressure to allow coal seam gas extraction across NSW is not going away any time soon.

Much of the push by mining industry representative bodies has centred on the claimed economic benefits that are available by allowing it to expand.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association was putting the case again this week.

Chief operating officer, Eastern Australia, Paul Fennelly, pointed out the 30,000 jobs related to the gas industry in Qld, contrasting it with NSW, which he said was "heading towards a gas supply crunch".

APPEA also points out the $110 million in community contributions by mining operations funded by the 4842 gas wells north of the border, or more than $22,000 per well. This compares to $887,000 in contributions from the 230 active wells in NSW, or less than $4000 per well.

The economic argument in favour of mining is strong from a statewide perspective, but it cannot be a one-size-fits-all for every region.

The Richmond/Tweed region received $7 million in direct spending by mining companies in 2012/13, the lowest in the state.

By comparison, the Tweed Shire alone recorded more than $200 million in tourism-related sales in 2011/12.

Tweed, and the rest of the Northern Rivers region, is heavily dependent on tourism as its economic base. That base is itself dependent on a long-standing and well-crafted image as a green region. Natural. Beautiful. Clean.

That reputation can only be sold off for gas money once, and if we allow it the local tourism industry could suffer permanent damage.

The good news is that the mechanism to prevent this and provide more security for our environmental assets already exists.

Last month, NSW Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher declared Sydney's water catchment off-limits to CSG mining.

This followed serious pressure from the persistent and vigorous grassroots campaign of groups such as Lock the Gate, backed by Labor and the Greens in the NSW Upper House and rattled Coalition marginal seat holders.

Locally, the Lock the Gate group has been relentless and highly effective in keeping the coal seam gas issue at the forefront of local debate, while Federal Richmond MP Justine Elliot has tabled an anti-CSG petition with an astounding 12,000 signatures.

The State Government has the power under the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 to use regulations to declare exempted areas, where the minister's approval is required to exercise mining leases.

The argument that our region deserves and requires special protection from any environmental and economic impacts of CSG extraction has been well made.

It is up to the State Government to use its power to act.

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