CSG advocate faces down hostile crowd

It was always going to be a tough crowd.

Tom Fontaine's message about the benefits of coal seam gas was an almost impossible one to sell to people so vehemently against it.

Mr Fontaine, the man whose company Magnum Gas and Power has partnered with Apex Energy in a bid to drill 16 CSG exploration wells north of Wollongong, yesterday stood in front of hundreds of anti-CSG mining campaigners at Helensburgh Workers' Club and tried to do just that.

"We believe NSW is running out of energy and we think [coal seam gas] is a positive for the state - that's why we're doing it," he said during an official Planning Assessment Commission hearing into Apex's application to extend its drilling approval time frame by two years.

"If we're given approval we will drill two wells to gather as much data as we need to determine whether there's enough gas left to mine and the quality of the resource.

"We wouldn't be here if we didn't think there were more positives than negatives in this."

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Mr Fontaine told the more than 200-strong crowd his ears were open.

"We're listening," he said.

"We're taking all the science advice we can. Let's use real information and continue [this] dialogue."

But as the lone voice of support among a tsunami of opposition to the plan, Mr Fontaine's comments largely fell on deaf ears.

Thirty-five other speakers addressed the public meeting, all of whom said they were not just against the time-extension application for the wells, but coal seam gas mining across the board.

Dr Melissa Haswell and Nimna De Silva, representing Doctors for the Environment Australia and the Public Health Association of Australia, said CSG had the potential to affect air, water and food security into the future.

Dr Haswell raised concerns about the possible health effects associated with CSG mining in the region.

"There's no data that supports the claims these activities haven't impacted on human health and well-being," Ms De Silva said.

"There are no studies to prove that CSG mining is safe. [However,] there's a small but growing body of research suggesting that CSG mining has widely negative implications for the community."

Ms De Silva said the two organisations joined the community in its concern that approving the application would open up the area to greater threats from CSG.

"We don't support [this application] as we believe it's the first step towards an insufficiently documented and researched development in a highly sensitive area," she said.

The commission also heard from representatives from Stop CSG Illawarra, the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council, Beyond Zero Emissions and Rivers SOS, as well as more than 20 individual residents.

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