The possible contamination of waterways from gas mining at the proposed Bentley site, just west of Lismore, has sparked a motion by Greens Cr Duncan Dey for this Thursday’s council meeting.
Cr Dey, who is also a councillor of water authority Rous Water, warns that Metgasco’s attempts to extract tight sands gas from prime agricultural lands could have ‘catastrophic impacts.’
He says in the upcoming council agenda for April 10 that the risks have ‘not been adequately investigated’.
Additionally, Rous Water, which supplies water to Lismore, Ballina, Richmond Valley and Byron LGAs, has called on the state government to prevent gas exploration in areas it is planning to explore for under- ground water sources. It comes as the state government recently announced a six-month freeze on all new CSG explorations.
Cr Dey wrote, ‘My view is that the risk to water quality is substantial while the necessity for unconventional gas to be discovered or, if found, extracted in this particular locality is negligible.
‘There is gas elsewhere.'
‘Rous and hence Byron Shire Council and their de- pendent water supply community rely on the Lismore source. If it were to be re- moved from Rous’s supply system, our future water strategy would be undermined in that a replacement source would be required almost immediately. While groundwater is proposed as ‘the new source’, it requires several years of investigation prior to use.
But in reply to Cr Dey’s question on possible contamination, Rous staff said, ‘It is unlikely that surface water runoff will have the potential to impact on local tributaries’, but ‘a key question to be ad- dressed concerns the extent to which the upstream migration of contaminants occurs during... intermediate flow ranges, when potential expo- sure could occur.’
‘This analysis requires consideration of the variability of tidal flows that would also introduce variability to this situation.’
Meanwhile Council’s Infrastructure Services director, Phil Holloway, says in the re- port that council staff contact- ed Richard Green, team lead- er of the state government’s Groundwater North, over the issue. ‘He has verbally advised that they have no concerns with the Bentley project.
‘It’s a conventional gas bore in that they are looking for dry gas, not fracking for coal seam gas. He also advised that groundwater flows very slowly and said that it may not be even possible for ground- water to travel from Bentley to Byron.
‘Without further investigation he couldn’t comment any further on the issue.’
But in his comments Mr Holloway provided the federal government’s Atlas of Ground- water Dependent Ecosystems which, ‘suggest the ground- water between Bentley and Byron Shire could be linked.’
State govt refused to fund water test
Regardless, for those living next door, the possibility of toxic spills and runoff are a major concern. Boudicca Cerese from Gasfield Free Northern Rivers claims the water testing that was done last year was insufficient to make any reasonable comparison.
‘What is required is proper baseline data’, she said, ‘not just this one-off testing but actually, over a period of time, through all different seasons.’
Richmond Valley Council, which covers Bentley, commissioned Lismore-based Richmond Water Laboratories to carry out the 2013 testing, with Metgasco paying for the test after the state govern- ment refused to fund it.
No baseline testing
It was done within a two- kilometre radius of the well’s location, and looked at the water quality in two creeks, two bores and two dams adjacent to the property where the company plans to drill for tight sands gas. The tests will be repeated two months after the drilling is complete and again 12 months later.
Cr Dey is asking for Council to write to Macquarie Street- based NSW coalition MPs regarding the dangers of the activity, while Cr Basil Cameron is calling on councillors to support a letter-writing push to include northern rivers agricultural industries as a Critical Industry Cluster (CIC) status.
Currently there are only two CICs in NSW: the horse and wine industries of the Hunter Valley. That legislation protects just those two indus- tries from the state’s rapid expansion of gas mining.