Equine and viticulture areas identified as ‘‘critical industry clusters" will be off limits to new coal seam gas activities, but will not have buffer zones around them.
Minister for Resources and Energy Chris Hartcher was this morning forced to make this clarification to NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's statement about coal seam gas leases.
Two-kilometre buffer zones will be introduced around residential areas to prevent new CSG exploration,assessment and production activities for surface and underground works.
The Environment Protection Authority will be put in charge of regulating the environmental and health impacts of the growing industry, and the state’s Chief Scientist and Engineer will conduct an independent review of all CSG activities and their impact on water catchments.
‘‘We want a sustainable CSG industry in NSW but it must be developed safely and with the appropriate environmental protections in place,’’ Premier Barry O’Farrell said.
The Coalition party room will be briefed on the measures today.
The move follows the emergence of coal seam gas as a key federal election issue in NSW, where the state government had also been under pressure to adopt Queensland’s use of two-kilometre buffer zones for wells around housing.
Energy company AGL recently put a proposal for drilling under western Sydney homes on hold, and federal Environment Minister Tony Burke was criticised last week by environmentalists and residents for signing off on the company’s state government-approved plans for at least 110 wells at Gloucester.
AGL also holds an exploration licence over the Broke vineyards area, which was among 22 gas licences the state government renewed last year.
The company has been conducting exploratory drilling and proposed pilot wells.
The new exclusion zones would affect any CSG activity that has not yet been approved.
The buffer around housing would apply to existing residential areas and land earmarked for future growth such as Sydney’s north-west.
Mr O’Farrell said putting the Environment Protection Authority in charge would end confusion in the community about which agency was responsible for monitoring and enforcing environmental and health conditions.
‘‘These actions clearly place public health and safety at the heart of all CSG activities,’’ he said.
An Office of Coal Seam Regulation would also be set up inside the Department of Trade and Investment.
The Chief Scientist would look at ways to manage the ‘‘interface’’ with residential properties in non-urban areas, with an initial report due to the government in July.