CSG firm seeks three-year drill extension

A coal seam gas company with controversial exploration plans in the Illawarra has responded to environmental and planning concerns raised over its application for more time to finish the project.

Planning authorities are now considering Apex Energy's application for a three-year extension on its project to drill 16 exploration boreholes in the area around Darkes Forest and Maddens Plains.

If the exploration is successful, Apex believes future production in the region may have the potential to supply 20 per cent of Sydney's gas supply for at least 20 years.

In a response to public submissions, the company said it believed much of the community concern over CSG was "ill founded" and "effectively promoted through media and purpose driven community activities".

The extent of that concern was highlighted last month, when thousands of people created an anti-CSG human sign at Bulli.

In the response, now available on the Planning Department's website, Apex director Stephen O'Keefe identified key issues raised in submissions including possible water contamination, fire risks and threats to biodiversity posed by the exploration project.

He said that after an extensive approvals process, the company did not believe there were any risks to surface or ground water, adding that the highest risk of a fire starting was likely to come from sources like careless motorists and lightning strikes.

"Any core holes are cemented from base to surface upon completion, and pose no risk to subsequent methane escape, while any wellheads are specifically designed to withstand bushfires with no material effect," he said.

In relation to biodiversity, he said access to all sites would be along "existing tracks, roads and easements" to minimise impacts.

He also argued that three boreholes that fell within the newly created Dharawal National Park might be able to be relocated.

"Any new site location would be subject to full environmental assessment at that time," he said.

Apex has a joint venture with Magnum Gas and Power for its Illawarra project.

The company's exploration plans have hit a number of hurdles, including the expiry of both its planning approval in September and of a key exploration licence underpinning the project.

A replacement licence application is being assessed.

If exploration is successful, a future production project may include 150-200 wells which Mr O'Keefe said would be drilled over the life of the project.

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