A Victorian food region west of Melbourne has joined the list of shires and towns arguing against coal seam gas (CSG) exploration and development.
Colac Otway Shire says it wants to protect its position as a flourishing food bowl, and has joined forces with other local and state governments pushing for a moratorium on CSG.
At last week’s council meeting, the Western District Shire Council voted unanimously on a move to encourage the state government to conduct more research on the impacts of CSG on the environment and economy before allowing mining companies into their region.
The Bass Coast Shire moved a similar motion last month and has also held public meetings to address growing concern over the impacts of CSG and coal exploration on agricultural land, the environment and lifestyle.
In December one of Australia’s major CSG explorers defended the practice, saying it can coexist with food security and agriculture.
Chief executive of Santos, David Knox, told ABC Radio he supports further scientific research but drilling should continue while it is conducted.
A senate report concluded the CSG industry is moving too quickly and is not allowing for research to be conducted on the impact CSG projects have on groundwater and food security.
Knox has denied the moratorium on CSG exploration wanted by the government is necessary, saying the only way more information can be found is to conduct the drilling.
But the community concern over the impacts of CSG exploration and drilling continues to increase, and last year a moratorium on all new coal and CSG projects was implemented.
Colac Otway Shire Councillor Stuart Hart pointed to the experiences of Queensland and New South Wales landholders who are fighting with the mining companies as a reason they want the practise halted until further research is conducted.
“This industry (CSG) is a significant threat to the Shire,” he told Stock & Land.
“I consider this to be a pristine food bowl…we do not want mining companies pouring carcinogenic chemicals into our waterways.”
He explained that agriculture and tourism were the two main industries in the region, which stretches from Birregurra and Colac to the Great Ocean Road, and includes Apollo Bay.
Friends of the Earth has welcomed the Shire’s move and says more regional communities should be doing the same.
“While the state government continues to peddle the line that current laws are sufficient to protect landowners when it comes to coal and CSG, clearly regional communities are not buying it” Friends of the Earth campaigns co-ordinator Cam Walker said.
“This intervention by Colac Otway has special significance given that the state government Inquiry into Greenfields Mineral Exploration and Project Development in Victoria is due to report next week.
“The minerals industry has been lobbying for a ‘streamlined’ approvals process for minerals such as coal and CSG.
“The Minerals Council believes there is ‘enormous potential for a coal seam methane industry in Victoria.’
“Clearly rural communities do not share their vision of an expanded fossil fuel industry being rolled out across southern Victoria”.