Tighter restrictions on coal seam gas operations near residential areas would do little to prevent impacts on water catchment areas in the Illawarra, it was claimed yesterday.
Under a new policy announced by Premier Barry O'Farrell, CSG operations will not be allowed within two kilometres of residential areas, while all existing projects will be audited and the Environment Protection Authority put in charge of compliance.
CSG activities will also be banned on wine-growing or horse-breeding lands.
Mr O'Farrell said suburbs, country towns and other urban areas would become "no-go zones for CSG activities".
"Families in residential areas should not have to worry about their quality of life being affected by the noise, visual impacts and other effects of coal seam gas mining," he said.
While the areas to be excluded from CSG mining had not been finalised, Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said the ban would apply to current and "future residential growth areas".
"If land is zoned residential, or set under a strategy document to be residential, it won't get a tick-off for CSG," he said.
Stop CSG Illawarra convener Jess Moore yesterday said the policy was unlikely to have an effect on Apex Energy's CSG project at Darkes Forest.
"This announcement doesn't rule out CSG development in the drinking water catchment," she said.
Some of Apex's exploration bore sites appear to be within two kilometres of residential areas, but many are not.
Mr Hazzard said existing exploration approvals near towns could not be touched, but the government would try to limit CSG production in these areas.
Yesterday, Apex corporate development manager Chris Lawrence said Apex had not been consulted before the announcement and was waiting to see details.
"Until we see the wording and the actual fine print it's too early to tell," he said.
Labor Member for Keira Ryan Park said the Illawarra seemed to be "excluded" from the new policy, which focused on CSG plans in south-west Sydney.
"This doesn't do anything in relation to the water catchment that we're concerned with," he said.
The government said the impact of coal seam gas on water catchments would be reviewed by NSW chief scientist Professor Mary O'Kane, who would conduct an audit of all CSG activities already under way.