Farmers, environmental groups and miners have joined forces to condemn the state government's new regime for how coal seam gas drilling and coal mining may be carried out in NSW.
The new rules, contained in the final version of the Strategic Land Use Policy, released yesterday, do not quarantine any part of NSW from exploration or mining applications, despite the demands of farmers and conservationists. The policy significantly expands the amount of land classified as ''strategic agricultural land'' and therefore subject to a ''gateway process'' overseen by an independent scientific panel, upsetting mining groups.
An ''exceptional circumstances'' provision, which would have given cabinet the power to override the process for projects of state significance, has been dumped.
However, concerns remain from some stakeholders that the protections for aquifers from coal seam gas drilling and mining are not strong enough.
Announcing the policy, the Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, said the government was introducing ''the most broad-reaching protection of strategic agricultural lands in the state's history''.
Mr Hazzard said the policy ''strikes a balance'' between the protection of land used for farming, winemaking and thoroughbred breeding and access to minerals that produces revenue for hospitals, roads and schools.
Since the release of the draft plan in March, the areas mapped as strategic agricultural land have been expanded by 670,000 hectares, primarily in the upper Hunter Valley and New England north-west regions. As well, the test for whether a mining or exploration is likely to damage the aquifer has been extended beyond proposals within the mapped areas, to apply statewide.
A Greens MP, Jeremy Buckingham, said by not quarantining areas of the state from any mining activity, the government had ''completely ignored'' the concerns of farmers.
''The community expected the O'Farrell government to rule out mining on productive agricultural lands and sensitive environmental areas,'' he said.
The president of the NSW Farmers Association, Fiona Simson, said ''thousands'' of city and country people wanted land and water protected.
Carmel Flint, of the anti-coal seam gas group Lock The Gate, said the policy meant ''thousands of gas wells, massive open-cut coalmines and the serious degradation of our way of life in NSW''. But the chief executive of the NSW Minerals Council, Stephen Galilee, said the rules added a layer of assessment which could delay projects and cost jobs and investment.
The Nationals' leader and Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, said contravention of the aquifer interference policy would not mean an automatic veto on mining activity. ''I'm confident if there is any chance that aquifers are going to be damaged in exploration or production activity, the process will not be approved by government,'' he said.
Mr Hazzard said a land and water commissioner would advise on legal rights relating to land use negotiations but would not make decisions on access.
The Energy and Resources Minister, Chris Hartcher, confirmed the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for coal seam gas extraction would be lifted immediately as the policy ''sets in place a very strict regulatory framework''.