The Sydney Catchment Authority has, for the first time, come out swinging against CSG activities in protected areas, making its opposition to exploration at these "special sites" very clear, Rivers SOS says.
The regional water alliance group believed the SCA had previously murmured about its opposition to CSG drilling near the catchment but had never defined its position - until last week.
In a NSW Planning Assessment Commission report refusing Apex Energy's bid for a time extension on its CSG exploration plans for the Illawarra escarpment, the SCA stated that its strong position was to exclude CSG activities in special areas.
Rivers SOS southern coalfield representative Caroline Graham said the statement, written by SCA chairman Mark Bethwaite, was the strongest indication to date of the SCA's opposition to CSG exploration.
"It's great to see them come out against it so strongly," she said.
"They've made veiled points in the past but they've never been so strong as to say their position is to oppose CSG activities in those special areas - it's the first time their position has been so clearly defined."
In his letter to the PAC, Mr Bethwaite noted that SCA considered CSG activities within special areas, next to water storage, were "inconsistent with its role, objectives and functions".
Ms Graham believed the SCA had become increasingly concerned about the impact of CSG drilling on the region's drinking water and the public outcry against CSG activities.
"There is a lot more research now, there is a lot more information going on the USA about the damage of drilling to the environment and health; these researchers are turning up more and more alarming stuff," she said.
"There's also been a huge public response - the SCA have said they are not influenced by public opinion but it's hard to ignore the number of anti-CSG groups mushrooming across the state."
For example, Stop CSG Illawarra had 4000 members.
While the group welcomed last week's PAC decision, Ms Graham said members were not yet giving up the fight against CSG.
The alliance was anxiously waiting for a review by the NSW chief scientist Mary O'Kane on the effects of drilling in water catchment areas. Her interim report is rumoured to be released later this month.