Lock the Gate Breakfast

(8.30am 19 August 2011, Reception Room Level 3)

Thank you and good morning.

I would like firstly to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, and I pay my respects to the Elders, both past and present.

Last year, the former Minister for Primary Industries approved a licence to do exploratory drilling in St Peters. It was granted without notification or consultation with the community, businesses or local council.

When the information became public, many residents were fearful and angry.

Like members of "Lock the Gate", they are shocked that mining exploration can be approved under their property without their knowledge and without adequate answers about environmental impacts.

I wrote to the then Premier in November to put the case for early involvement by the department of environment before a licence is issued, and for local councils and affected communities to receive effective notification of any proposed exploration.

In December, the City of Sydney formally and unanimously expressed concern about the risks of coal seam gas extraction on neighbouring residential and agricultural properties, aquifers and water supplies.

We called for a comprehensive, independent investigation into the environmental and social impacts of coal-seam gas exploration and extraction.

Urgent action to address this issue is critical for Australia's sustainability in this an era of climate change.

Changes we are facing in temperature, rainfall and extreme weather will affect water availability, soil quality, fire risk and the incidence of pests and disease. It will impact on crop and livestock production, and potentially reduce Australia's food supply.

The scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring at a rapid rate and that we need to act quickly this decade to constrain the temperature changes to two degrees to prevent our planet "tipping" into catastrophic climate change.

To play our part in addressing climate change, the City of Sydney has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across our city area by 70 per cent by 2030, based on 2006 levels.

The City's most ambitious climate change program will transform energy supply in our city, with 100 per cent produced locally by 2030 through renewable energy and trigeneration.

This is important because Australia is the highest emitter of greenhouse gases per capita in the developed world—mainly due to centralised coal-fired power stations.

To remove reliance on coal-fired power, we will build a local tri-generation network for low-carbon power, heating and cooling. While we plan ultimately to power this by renewable gas, it will initially need to be powered by natural gas.

Nearly all forecasts of Australia's electricity supply in a low carbon future, including projections from Greenpeace and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, assume gas as an essential fuel to transition us from coal to renewables.

Gas is currently the next cheapest source of fuel after coal. As trigeneration it provides a greenhouse emission reduction of between 40 per cent and 60 per cent compared with coal. It can do this because it recovers the zero carbon waste heat from local electricity generation to supply heating and cooling instead of rejecting the waste heat at remote power station cooling towers which use billions of litres of water a year to reject waste heat in the Hunter Valley.

But importantly, gas generation starts up quickly. This is a vital part of a transitional electricity system with only a proportion of part-time renewable sources such as wind and solar which currently has to be backed up by coal fired power stations.

At the City of Sydney, we want assurance that the natural gas we source as a transitional fuel is mined with effective environmental and social safeguards.

We want certainty that our work to address the impact of climate change is not undermined by unsustainable impacts from poorly regulated mining operations.

The technique of 'fracking' has been a focus of community concern, particularly in the light of US experience exposed in the film "Gas Land" and the bans on fracking of shale gas in France, Switzerland and South Africa.

'Fracking' involves fracturing the coal seam to speed up gas release. It requires pumping large volumes of fluid at high pressure, often with hazardous chemicals or other materials to hold open the fractures.

However, all forms of coal seam gas extraction can have impacts depending on the characteristics of the coal seam, the geology of the surrounding rock, the connection to aquifers, the extraction techniques and the extent safeguards in place.

Most conventional gas mining has been off-shore — where it is often "out of sight and out of mind". Since the mid-1990s though, commercial coal seam gas operations on-shore have dramatically increased.

It is time to holistically revisit the environmental safeguards and regulatory framework of gas mining near our homes and farmlands, close to water supplies and arable land.

We need a moratorium on new exploration and mining until there is public accountability, transparency and environmental assurances.

The new NSW Parliamentary inquiry into the impacts of coal seam gas mining is a welcome start. I have asked City staff to prepare a submission. The inquiry needs to identify where mining can occur and it is the opportunity to ensure that Australian gas mining is properly regulated for environmental outcomes, particularly to protect our precious arable land and water resources and residential areas.

We need to fix the balance between the property rights of landholders and the access granted for mining companies.

And we need to address the conflict between food production and energy production so that we secure Australia's sustainability for coming generations.