Burke approves Gloucester CSG project

FEDERAL Environment Minister Tony Burke has reacted to the leaking of communication between himself and NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard by unilaterally approving AGL Energy's Gloucester project and cutting the state out of negotiations on conditions.
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Last week Burke took the decision to delay approval on the Gloucester project - which will involve the drilling of 110 CSG wells, a central processing facility among other infrastructure - until February 21.

However, a letter leaked to The Australian suggested that Burke "was likely" to give approval to the Boggabri coal mine, with the letter penned in December.

Along with approval for the Maules Creek and Boggabri coal mines, Burke said he was intending to consult with AGL Energy about conditions for the approval, but has instead decided to give approval anyhow, but stressed that whether the project goes ahead hinges on AGL adhering to conditions attached to the approval.

"It has always been my preference to minimise the number of planning and modelling processes which have to continue after a decision has been made because I want companies to be able to determine whether or not a project will go ahead on the basis of the conditions they see in my decision," Burke said.

"Unfortunately, the decision of the New South Wales government to leak commercially sensitive information has caused me to have to bring these decisions forward today with the remaining work to be resolved directly between the company and myself."

He said that work on the conditions would be carried out between AGL and himself, with no regard for the input of the NSW government.

"The development of these further conditions will be conducted without reference to the NSW government, which is unfortunate but a decision that they have effectively made for themselves."

He said he had imposed 36 strict conditions upon the Gloucestor project, which were placed with the consultation of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Coal Mining.

Burke has previously attacked NSW for not signing on to the National Partnership Agreement on CSG, which includes taking on the advice of the Independent Committee.

"I cannot fathom why NSW, unlike the other states, thinks they should not be using the best qualified science and the best processes, especially when people are asking whether this industry is going to cause subsidence on their land," Burke was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald last week.

Burke said groundwater issues are front and centre of the conditions placed on AGL's project.

"In particular, my approval requires the development of a hydrogeological model based on further field studies and analyses. This exercise is critical to thoroughly understanding the interaction between local features such as faults, coal seams and aquifers," he said.

"Given the importance of this work in understanding and protecting the local water systems from coal seam gas impacts, commercialisation of the operation will not occur until this work has been done."

You can find a copy of the approval and subsequent conditions here.

AGL Energy said it would now work on satisfying the conditions laid out by the minister.