Alistair Walsh | 24 November 2011

Carmelite nuns have little faith in AGL Energy coal seam gas plans for Scenic Hills

Carmelite nuns have little faith in AGL Energy maintaining the rural tranquillity of Scenic Hills.

The Catholic religious order is concerned the “supportive environment for prayer would be lost with the noise of construction and operation of gas wells nearby and heavy vehicle traffic on local roads”.

“AGL plans to locate up to six gas wells on the Serbian Orthodox property next door to us,” writes Sister Jocelyn Kramer.

The nuns settled in the region more than 20 years ago after the region was made an environmental protection (scenic) zone in 1974. The zoning specifically prohibits extractive industries and mines.

“In contravention of the zoning, AGL Energy Ltd (AGL) has applied to the NSW Minister for Planning to put up to 72 coal seam gas (CSG) wells across Campbelltown's Scenic Hills from Mount Annan to Denham Court,” she wrote.

The nuns are concerned about damage to historic area. They raise its important Aboriginal history and its “rich colonialist heritage”.

They are also concerned about damage to Upper Canal, part of Sydney’s water catchment area, and possible damage to Mount Annan Botanic Garden’s plants and animals.

“The sheer audacity of this proposal epitomises the problem residents have with AGL's  plans for the Scenic Hills.”

“If the NSW Minister for Planning approves AGL's proposal for CSG mining in the Scenic Hills, much of its beauty and tranquillity will be lost forever.”

The group asks that no new licenses are approved until there has been extensive research on the impact of coal seam gas and associated practises and that research has been made publicly available.

“As a religious community, we recognise that economic development is necessary and we welcome research and development into renewable energy sources,” Kramer writes.

“We also believe unashamedly that there are important and enduring assets that money cannot buy, which short-sighted economic developments can irrevocably destroy in their haste to make money for the few.”

The Discalced Carmelite friars are on the same site and echo the calls of the nuns.

“It like we are collateral damage. Our very viability and the viability of this heritage landscape is threatened by a ‘blue-chip’ company determined to exploit the resources under our land,” Father Gregory Burke says.

The friars established the retreat centre in 1967.

He says AGL is deceptive in the way it is dealing with their concerns.

“We have found that they can be very economical with the truth,” he writes.

“It has been asserted to us that certain chemicals are not used. But then we were alerted that by a member of the Legislative Assembly of NSW that in fact these same chemical are used but are called additives.”

He is also unhappy with the approval process for coal seam gas projects.

“That there is no truly independent monitoring of coal seam gas extraction in NSW to ensure that the conditions of approval and safety standards are being fully met is truly a disgrace.”

“Self-regulation has meant that inevitable spills and mishaps have and will continue to be covered up.”

Burke is concerned about the unsatisfactory response of AGL to warnings issued by experts.

“Their response is that of salesmen who dismiss objections by trivialising them rather than dealing with them in a proper scientific manner,” he says.

He says that the AGL officers he has spoken to dismiss any arguments by claiming that the issues in Queensland will not apply in NSW because the geology is different.

“AGL’s sole argument is simply ‘trust us’. They seek to reassure us by stressing that they are a ‘blue-chip’ company with a long history.”

“We are not reassured by this assertion and wonder what it actually means for anyone who is not a shareholder.”

He asks for a full ban on coal seam gas extraction in Sydney’s Metropolitan Area, environmental protection areas and that the proposed Northern Expansion of the Camden Gas Field Stage 3a be dismissed.

 

 

 

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