This morning I addressed a breakfast meeting of the "Lock the Gate" Alliance - a national coalition of over 300 community, industry and environmental groups, individual members and supporters concerned about the impacts of coal seam gas mining on the environment, prime agricultural land, water, health and well-being.
The City was as surprised as the community when we found out late last year that a license to undertake exploratory drilling in St Peters for coal seam gas had been granted by the State Government.
The licence, approved by the former Minster for Primary Industries, and granted without notification or consultation, left many residents fearful, angry and shocked that mine exploration could be approved under their property without their knowledge and without adequate information.
I wrote to the then Premier in November 2010 to put the case that the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water should have a greater role in assessing a licence before it is issued, and for local councils and affected communities to receive effective notification of any proposed exploration.
On 6 December 2010, 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 era of climate change.
Changes 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.
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. 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 network using renewable gas, initially it will be powered by natural gas.
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.
I believe 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 NSW Parliamentary inquiry into the impacts of coal seam gas mining is a welcome start and I have asked City staff to prepare a submission.
This is an opportunity to ensure that Australian gas mining is properly regulated for environmental outcomes, particularly to protect precious arable land and water resources and to fix the balance between the property rights of landholders and the access granted for mining companies.