Inquiry calls for freeze on coal seam gas production

The NSW government should cease issuing production licences for coal seam gas production until a ”comprehensive framework” for regulating the industry is developed, a parliamentary inquiry is set to recommend.

The inquiry’s report, due to be released today, is also understood to recommend a moratorium on the controversial extraction method of fracking be continued until the national regulator finishes testing the chemicals involved.

The Herald has learnt it also advises the five-year ”royalty holiday” granted to coal seam gas miners be scrapped and a strict limit be placed on ”fugitive emissions” from gas mining sites.

The inquiry, chaired by the Shooters and Fishers Party MP Robert Brown, was established after a proposal by the Greens MP and mining spokesman, Jeremy Buckingham, who is its deputy chairman.

The cross-party committee that carried out the inquiry attracted more than 900 submissions after it was announced last year and travelled the state taking evidence from communities affected by coal seam gas exploration and mining.

The expected tabling of its report coincides with an anti-coal seam gas rally organised by farming and environment groups outside the NSW Parliament today.

The groups, which include the NSW Farmers Association, the Nature Conservation Council and political and community organisations, oppose the government’s draft strategic land use policy for how coal and coal seam gas mining and exploration may be carried out.

They claim the government has breached a promise because its draft framework does not ”ring fence” any land in NSW from potential coal or coal seam gas exploration or mining, despite indications it would do so before the election.

The mining industry has also raised concerns that the draft policy would significantly add to its costs.

The government argues that its policy strikes a balance between mining, agricultural and environment interests. It is undergoing a public consultation process.

The coal seam gas inquiry report’s central recommendation for a freeze on the granting of production licences would affect plans by the energy giants AGL and Santos.

AGL is seeking permission to expand production at a site at Camden, while Santos has a proposal for 550 wells in the Pilliga state conservation area.

The Resources and Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, last year announced a moratorium on fracking - or hydraulic fracturing - in response to concerns it could pollute the water table.

The recommendation for a continuation of the moratorium until all chemicals used in the process are tested by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme is understood to be related to concerns that only two chemicals have been examined to date.

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