Money politics trumps party loyalty as Ferguson enters the NSW anti-CSG fray

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(Labor's anti-CSG campaign poster)

Money politics trumps party loyalty as Martin Ferguson enters the NSW anti-CSG election fray. Deputy editor, Sandi Keane, sets out to expose the truth behind his barrage of spin.

THE POWER of money over party loyalty is patently obvious with APPEA’s Chairman, Martin Ferguson, siding with NSW Liberals on behalf of their mining paymasters.

NSW Labor’s plan to cancel Santos’ coal seam gas project in the Pilliga State Forest has spawned a thunderous barrage of spin by Ferguson, who now holds several mining industry posts in addition to chairing the advisory board of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA). So, no surprises here whose interests are paramount.

The “story” put out by the NSW government and Martin Ferguson that Santos’ coal seam gas project in the Pilliga will cost almost every job in every industry that uses gas was plucked straight from their arsenal of ready claptrap.

“It’s beyond a joke”, said Wilderness Society Newcastle Campaign Manager, Naomi Hogan.

Naomi continued:

The only economic analysis Santos has released showed that the project once operating would add only 16 additional full-time equivalent positions to the economy around Narrabri.

The Baird Government has been played for mugs by Santos. It’s burying its head in the sand over the Narrabri coal seam gas project.

We shouldn’t play Russian roulette with coal seam gas projects such as Santos’s environmentally devastating Narrabri Gas Project when it puts other regional jobs and groundwater supplies at risk.

NSW is not going to run out of gas as there are plenty of other supplies, including the huge Esso-BHP gas fields in Bass Strait. Even CSG miner AGL’s recently departed chief executive Michael Fraser acknowledges that the Esso-BHP gas fields has enough gas to head off any shortages.

Ms. Hogan went on to question the economic viability of the project which Santos appeared to be mothballing with the Baird Government seemingly oblivious.

It isn’t just the Baird Government being played for mugs. Playing the public for mugs is also standard practice for Santos. Its quest to win the hearts and minds of the NSW farming community with the humbug that coal seam gas and broadacre farming could co-exist, backfired after one of its TV ads was exposed as a con job by this writer.

Not only did the farmer in the ad (Santos employee, Warwick Moppett) not own the farms he was filmed on, he failed to seek permission from the rightful owners to film the ad. We can well understand his reluctance to do so. Judging from the angry reaction from the three owners of the farms when I showed them the ad, Moppett was lucky they didn’t set their dogs on him.

The con job ad campaign by Santos with Warwick Moppett posing as the farm owner.

The fact is that there is not a single solitary broadacre farm in the entire country that co-exists with coal seam gas wells. I know. I asked every coal seam gas mining company in NSW and Queensland to come up with an example. Should such an unlikely liaison exist, I said I’d be happy to see for myself with an obligatory “mea culpa” story to follow. But alas for Big Mining, they couldn’t deliver. Last I heard, Santos looked like being sued for trespass.

The public has made its feelings clear about fracking and coal seam gas. Ninety-six per cent of north-west NSW landholders representing three million hectares of land covering Santos’s leases have declared they want to remain gasfield free. The same is happening in Victoria. The latest count as surveys progress across the state is there are now 57 communities against CSG mining, according to Debbie Carruthers, Gasfield Free Bairnsdale Co-ordinator. 

Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project in the Pilliga Forest has become the symbol of the chronic regulatory failure of this mad experiment being played out on prime farmland and our valuable aquifers. The Narrabri Project threatens our most important recharge zone for the Great Artesian Basin, Australia’s most important groundwater resource. If it weren’t for the Wilderness Society’s Naomi Hogan, we would never have known that, back in May 2013, Santos contaminated the acquifer in the Pillaga with twenty times the safe limit of uranium.

Thankfully, Naomi Hogan’s investigation got to the truth in spite of corporate and government stonewalling. Please do read her story to get a sense of the cover up from EPA’s first report of the leak, which, of course, was never made public. The last thing Santos and the NSW government want is to expose the lie that the Great Artesian Basin is safe from fracking. And the EPA’s response to Santos’ contamination of the acquifer? A fine of $1,500! Seriously! For a $20 billion multinational corporation, this didn’t even amount to a slap over the wrist with a wet lettuce leaf.

The insanity of this big, bold experiment to harvest coal seam gas at the expense of our prime farmland has now basically run its course in the U.S supplanted by the next big bonanza: shale. The average lifespan of a well is 10-12 years so most have spewed up their last drop of gas. The topsoil doesn’t come back after the frackers and wells move in because of the disruption to the water flow. All that remains is worthless farmland and a mammoth clean-up bill for the taxpayer stuck with getting rid of the toxic infrastructure.

Farmers and regional communities have now woken up that voting for governments that want to destroy our future food and water security with CSG wells is like turkeys voting for Christmas. It will be interesting to see how the anti-CSG vote plays out in the NSW election and what impact public opinion will have on future food and water security policy.

You can follow Sandi Keane on Twitter @jarrapin.

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