Indigo Council exploring coal seam gas issue

Indigo mayor Bernard Gaffney

Indigo mayor Bernard Gaffney

INDIGO Council will undertake shire-wide community consultation as it prepares a formal policy on coal seam gas exploration.

It comes as the Victorian government launches its statewide consultation on onshore gas.

While coal seam gas mining has been a topical issue in northern NSW and Queensland, there is a moratorium on fracking — a method of coal seam gas extraction which opponents say has dire environmental effects — in Victoria until mid-next year.

A coal seam gas reserve sits in the north-west corner of the Indigo shire, extending across to Wangaratta and over the border into Corowa.

Energy company Energetica abandoned a plan to mine the Corowa section in 2012 due to the expense, while local activists defeated another bid last year.

The Wangaratta section was the subject of a failed licence bid in 2010.

Indigo mayor Bernard Gaffney said the shire did not yet have a formal position on coal seam gas — but given its closeness to the reserve, it should.

“Indigo has pristine water resources and there have been some concerns expressed across the community in regard to CSG,” Mr Gaffney said.

“We want to make sure the community is fully engaged in this process.”

Two community meetings, at Yackandandah and Chiltern, will be held in the near future.

The council has also sought reports on the impact of fracking and coal seam gas to its Environmental Advisory Group.

Co-author of the report Matthew Charles-Jones said his personal opinion was that Australia had a richer future in renewable energy.

Mr Charles-Jones, a Yackandandah-based sustainability consultant, said it would be “retrograde” for Victoria to explore coal seam gas and there were too many uncertainties in its exploration.

“It’s one big global experiment we can’t determine the outcome of,” he said.

“Organisations around the world are telling us we can’t keep relying on fossil fuels.”

Mr Charles-Jones welcomed both Indigo Council and the state’s community consultations, praising the government’s “cautious” approach.

“I expect there’ll be a large group of people in opposition to it, but just as large a group will feel it’s an important development opportunity for the North East,” he said.

The government will use its community consultation and an independent study on the environmental impacts to guide its decision on whether to lift the ban on fracking.

Former federal Liberal minister Peter Reith, who heads the Gas Market Taskforce, has said he believed coal seam gas mining would boost the Victorian economy.

Benambra MP Bill Tilley said the consultations were crucial to the government considering every aspect of the debate before making any decisions.

Information on consultation is at naturalgasinfo.vic.gov.au.

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