Fiery CSG discussion at council meeting

WELLINGTON Shire Council reaffirmed its concerns about the impact of onshore gas operations on local agriculture during an at times fiery meeting on Tuesday night.

It was standing room only as anti-CSG activists, many holding yellow ‘Lock the Gate’ signs, sought to pressure council into adopting its activist statement.

They wanted council to declare its opposition to coal seam gas and unconventional gas extraction activities until there was clear scientific evidence that the industry wouldn’t pollute water resources, impact farmland, affect the biodiversity of the region or have adverse effects on tourism.

Such was the vehemence of interjections, mayor Scott Rossetti threatened to adjourn the meeting until a vocal member of the gallery left the room.

Cr Rossetti said council’s position on the issue had not changed since it wrote to the Energy Minister supporting a hold on approvals of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, until clear evidence was provided about the impact it would have on Gippsland’s groundwater.

Wurruk resident and Coal Seam Gas Wellington Awareness Group member Morgan Knoesen said the group had consulted with members of parliament and other councils to create a resolution it wanted Wellington Shire Council to adopt.

Bass Coast and South Gippsland shire councils had passed similar motions.

Mr Knoesen said council was aware of the depth of concern in the shire about the threats posed by new onshore and coal operations.

“We do appreciate that local government has no control over the issuing of licences for coal seam gas and other gases, and agree that it does have an advocacy role in expressing the concerns of the community,” he said.

“We feel that there is considerably more that the council can and should be doing.”

Cr Rossetti explained there was a process for motions to go through before being formally voted on by councillors.

“Typically, a lot of work goes into a motion beforehand to understanding all the pros and cons before bringing it to a meeting,” he said.

It was when Gary Evison, a resident of The Honeysuckles, spoke that tempers flared.

“We voted you in, we can bloody well vote you out.

“You’re doing nothing for the people of this shire,” he told council.

“Would any of you want these drills in your backyard?

“Remember you work for all of us.”

Such was the level of anger displayed by Mr Evison, Cr Rossetti threatened to adjourn the meeting.

Mr Evison’s wife Maggie said it was an emotional issue for many residents.

“We just feel, to a certain extent, we are not getting anywhere.

“Nobody seems to be listening and it is very emotional,” she said.

“You have to live down there to understand, when they think of even putting wells 100 metres from Merrimans Creek, our drinking water.

“The farmers and all the people are all very concerned.”

Mrs Evison said 98 per cent of Seaspray residents didn’t want gas operations in the area.

“This has come up time and time again; all we want is what other shires have done before,” she said.

Cr Rossetti said council didn’t have control on whether mining took place in the shire, but was advocating to protect the best interests of the community.

In November last year, council sent a letter to then Energy Minister Michael O’Brien supporting government reforms, in particular the moratorium on fracking as part of onshore gas exploration.

Council sought an assurance from the minister that the hold on fracking would remain in place until issues surrounding the safety and integrity of Gippsland’s aquifers were resolved.

With agriculture a major industry in the shire, council wrote that the protection of groundwater aquifers was of paramount concern.

It said an independent scientific review into the impact of mining on water resources in Gippsland must provide specific scientific guidance for the community to be reasonably assure there was no long term risk.

Cr Rossetti said council had received an acknowledgement of the letter, but was still waiting for detailed advice from the minister’s office which could be shared with the community.

“The letter that we sent to minister O’Brien was quite clear that we support the hold on approvals of hydraulic fracturing. Given the strength of community feeling on the potential impact on water resources, it’s quite clear we do not support the hydraulic fracturing at this stage.”

Cr Rossetti said current mining minister Nick Kotsiras had indicated during a Committee for Gippsland forum in Traralgon last week that the state government was likely to make announcements on CSG and related issues in October.

Cr Rossetti commended efforts to voice concerns about onshore gas mining, but said that should be directed to the state and federal governments.

“In the end, we know where the responsibility is for this issue, it ain’t with local government.

“We can do little bits and pieces here and there, but ultimately it’s the state and federal governments who have it here.”

“It seems fairly fruitless to say ‘we ban it’ because we can’t make a decision on something we don’t have control over.”