Little comfort in coal seam gas pledge

Wollongong's northern suburbs will not be subject to hydraulic fracturing if a company wins the right to drill new wells for coal seam gas, a community forum at Thirroul has heard.More than 200 people gathered at Thirroul Community Centre yesterday to discuss Ormil Energy's plans to drill new coal seam gas (CSG) wells in the city's northern suburbs.At the event, Ormil Energy managing director Tom Fontaine said his company would never use hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" - in which water, sand and chemicals are blasted into the seam to break up coal - to release the trapped gas."In none of the Illawarra areas will we ever frack a well, so I have no idea on why we're debating something ... that will not happen," Mr Fontaine said.However, his talk left residents with little confidence, said Stop CSG Illawarra spokeswoman Jess Moore."Tom did nothing to give us confidence in the industry," she said."We've asked the company on numerous occasions to guarantee us there will be no fracking - they still haven't done that."I suspect, as a small company, they are only looking to do exploration - just looking to see if there's gas there - not production.""Even if Ormil will never frack, that doesn't mean whoever they sell the land to won't," she said.Stop CSG Illawarra says it is concerned about the "mounting evidence" of coal seam gas mining's impact on drinking water, health and the environment.On top of a request to ban fracking, the group has requested a royal commission into CSG mining's environmental and health impacts.In September 2009, Apex Energy was granted permission to drill 15 exploration wells between Darkes Forest and the escarpment behind Coledale and Austinmer.In May this year, Illawarra residents formed a spectacular 3000-person human anti-CSG mining banner at Austinmer Beach."There's no difference between the three wells that we're proposing and most of the 3000 wells that have already been drilled in the area," Mr Fontaine said yesterday."The main differences are that we are going after a different resource ... just trying to capture the gas, not rip out the coal."

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