Coal and Gas Mining
(Private Members Statement, 25 May 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
My constituents are worried that coal and gas mining is putting basic life essentials like food, air, water and biodiversity at risk for short-term, unsustainable private profit. Since the Paris Agreement came into effect in November 2016, 26 fossil fuel projects have been approved in New South Wales. Over their life cycle, these projects will produce 4.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, which is equivalent to more than 30 years of the State's current annual emissions. Our survival depends on an urgent transition away from fossil fuels to mitigate the worst climate change impacts. We cannot afford a business‑as-usual approach to fossil fuel mining.
Disturbingly, a desire to extract as much coal and gas from the earth as possible before the transition to renewables is seeing mining creep into our precious and irreplaceable food bowl on the Liverpool Plains. The Liverpool Plains provide some of the most productive agricultural land in Australia, where barley, chickpeas, faba beans, sorghum, sunflowers, soybeans, maize, wheat and cotton are produced, and beef cattle and sheep graze. The black volcanic soil is highly fertile, while the reliable rainfall ensures year-round good crops even when the country is in drought.
Liverpool Plains crops yield 40 per cent more per hectare than the national farming average and contribute about $332 million to annual gross domestic product. The region is fundamental to the long-term food security of the country and the State, yet it is under serious threat from mining. The Pilliga Forest, which adjoins the Liverpool Plains, will be destroyed by the 850 coal seam gas wells approved under the Narrabri Gas Project. The forest is Australia's largest temperate woodland forest and a vital recharge area for Australia's largest groundwater basin, the Great Artesian Basin. Two massive lateral high-pressured gas pipelines are proposed to transport the gas: the Lateral Pipeline, which will splice through the Pilliga, and the Hunter Gas Pipeline, which will traverse the Liverpool Plains.
Seismic testing is occurring across the Liverpool Plains, despite fierce resistance from farmers and landholders. During caretaker mode in March, the previous Government approved the reactivation of the Kahlua pilot wells on the Liverpool Plains, which will be flared for two years. The groundwater system of the Liverpool Plains is fragile and interconnected, with aquifers that are a crucial water source for agricultural productivity. Contamination from coal seam gas extraction risks destroying the water source for the entire region. The pipelines could shift the flow of water across the plains, as occurred on the Darling Downs in Queensland, which stopped the soil from draining and rendered it unproductive. Pipe cracks, leaks or breaks could blow massive holes in the food bowl. Constructing multiple compressor stations across the region to maintain pressure in the pipes so that gas keeps flowing would introduce heavy industrial structures in what should be a natural food-growing region.
Many in the local community believe the pipelines are aimed at creating a gateway to facilitate fracking on the Liverpool Plains. The Liverpool Plains were once off limits to mining, but recent approvals covering 600,000 hectares, including three open-cut mines across 4,000 hectares of the most productive farming land, have given mining proponents hope. The Liverpool Plains are a long-term asset that should be protected for food security and our future survival. By contrast, coal and gas are fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, biodiversity destruction, and air and water pollution. They are being phased out by the global community. The fact that mining and exploration is already occurring on and around the Liverpool Plains demonstrates that our planning system is failing. We need to make the Liverpool Plains and the surrounds that support its agriculture fertility off limits to mining.
The previous Government designated the Narrabri Gas Lateral Pipeline as State significant infrastructure. That designation can be reversed. The Hunter Gas Pipeline has been approved as State significant infrastructure but requires ministerial approval under the Pipelines Act 1967. The Minister should reject it at this final step. We need third-party appeal rights for coal seam gas projects to allow farmers and traditional owners to test the merits of approvals in court. Climate change should be embedded in all planning decisions, with proponents required to provide a climate impact statement.
The new Government needs to replace pro-coal and gas policy statements with proactive policies requiring decision-making to properly consider and actively minimise climate impacts. Importantly, we need to ban gas connections and new developments, and establish a road map to substituting gas connections in households and businesses so that we can achieve net zero emissions and remove any reliance on gas. I join farmers, the Gomeroi traditional owners, environmentalists, my constituents and the wider community in calling on the Government to protect the life-sustaining Liverpool Plains and Pilliga forest by stopping the Narrabri Gas Project, the Hunter and lateral gas pipelines and any further mining in this important food bowl from going ahead.