Mr. Mark Harper,
Sydney Gas Operations
Level 11, 1 O’Connell
Dear Mark Harper,
I refer to your letter
of 16th June.
In relation to the matters
to which you refer on the first page of your letter, it appears your
comments were made with no knowledge of the history of the provision
to us of the REFs. This particular REF was provided to us on or
about 18th April pursuant to an undertaking given by Frank
Krstic to the community in about November 2006, which undertaking was
continually breached until now, as were other undertakings given to
the community at the “open days” breached, at least one of which
undertakings is still to be honoured.
We are aware of the DPI’s
assessment process. We don’t agree with the process, but have
to live with it, it appears, at this stage. Having in mind the REF for
the 5 coreholes lodged in April, we do not agree that the DPI necessarily
assessed it accurately.
- We have written separately
to Dr. Saunders in relation to this heading. You have probably had the
chance to read that letter by now. Indeed a draft Memorandum of Understanding
was prepared and forwarded to Dr. Saunders, at his request, which MOU
he asked, was to set out those matters which had been agreed upon between
us and Dr. Saunders. For some reason, of which we are not aware,
Dr. Saunders has now altered his view and has sought to distance himself
from the document he requested. We were of the specific understanding
that the MOU had been taken to your Board and that with the withdrawal
of the clauses requiring any entity taking over Sydney Gas to be bound
by the MOU, he was to take it to the AGL Board. These negotiations took
place over a period of more than 10 months. We really thought
we were getting somewhere with a mutually beneficial way forward.
It will be up to the community as to what they make of this turn around.
We are fully aware
of the drilling rigs currently operating in our region operated on behalf
of coal mining companies. This drilling is within the mining leases
and away from the aquifers, alluvials and water tables. In addition,
much of the drilling is on land owned by the Mining Company.
- We take issue with the findings
of the Parson Brinckerhoff report. We do not accept your submission
that the contents of that report are applicable to your exploration
activities in all parts of the Hunter or any part of the Hunter.
Upon what basis do you make that submission?
- Surely you must be more than
“open to the idea that (you) consult with the community early in the
process”. Our understanding is that you are required to consult
with the community, not that it is an idea you may be open to.
Obviously the community consultation should be prior to access agreements
being signed. Once such an agreement is signed then the community
has no further input into the matter. That is unacceptable and
should be addressed by you.
- We have seen your earlier
draft access agreements, which you say are no longer to be used.
We have seen the template for the access agreements which you say you
will now use for coreholes. Are we to assume that the Access and
Compensation Agreements signed for all coreholes approved as a result
of the latest REF are or will be in identical terms to the draft template
you have provided with your letter?
- Your comments are noted.
- Your comments are noted.
Whatever your intention in calling the Wollombi Brook an unidentified
“creek”, the fact is that in the perspective of the community, you
attempted to diminish its importance to our agriculture, viticulture,
dairy and other rural pursuits.
- We thought you may have been
aware of the detail of potential impacts “that exploration
may have on these ecosystems..” etc., rather than simply referring
us to the DPI.
- Your comments are noted.
We see that, in outlining what you would do in the event of “unforeseeable
damage”, that there is some likelihood of damage. One would
have thought that all possible damage would have been identified, foreseen,
and plans in place for absolute avoidance of any damage.
- Your apology is noted.
It is the community whom we represent who are unable to accept your
apology, not necessarily myself personally. We also note your
commitment to do better in this area.
- Your response is noted.
We do not accept that these environmental impacts have been properly
addressed in the REF.
- We note your comments.
Perhaps this answer should have been given to the meeting.
- We are writing separately
to Dr. Saunders in relation to this question, having in mind our discussions
direct with him. We have not been advised, with supporting evidence,
either by Sydney Gas or the Department as to whether or not there have
been any negative impacts; what steps were taken to ensure there were
no ongoing risks. Further, if in any fraccing procedure there
is one million litres of water per well, what size trucks will be used
to take the water to the processing plant; over what period of time
will those trucks be used during the fraccing or any other procedure
requiring large quantities of water; how many truck movements in and
out of the drilling area will there be; what other matters are addressed
by you in relation to the “captured and recycled” water you have
- We note your commitment to
communicate with the community in the future. All the reasons
we believe these “open days” and “focus groups” were flawed
have been set out in previous correspondence and we don’t propose
to outline them yet again. The “focus groups” were advised
that the results of the groups would be published in the Singleton Argus.
This has not yet occurred. Can you indicate when this publication
will take place. Will you provide us with details of the
results of those “focus groups” or are they secret.
- Your comments are noted.
The newsletter is an improvement on those of the past, however you should
ensure that it is widely distributed to all members of the community.
whom have you received positive feedback?
how many landholders have you received positive feedback?
which Councillors have you received positive feedback?
was said by those persons which led you to conclude that it is much
more informative and open?
what basis do you conclude that “degassing gas myths” is the “most
popular” article in the newsletter. What was said and by whom
to lead you to that conclusion?
- This was not a subjective
assertion, but an objective assertion based on the observation of those
taking part in the meeting and the contact they have made with our Group
since. Of course the lack of confidence and mistrust of Sydney
Gas is not totally universal, it is just the majority of the community
upon whose behalf our Group was formed who have this view. Of
course there is the occasional landholder who will sign an access and
compensation agreement for his thirty pieces of silver. We would
not expect Sydney Gas to share the view of the majority of the landholders
who were present at the meeting. Hiding behind apologies when
approvals have already taken place does nothing to improve the credibility
of the company in the eyes of the community.
- The landholders of Wollombi
kept notes of those questions which were not answered, and also those
where answers were corrected by you. They will no doubt will be putting
those questions to you again. Your introduction was missed by
those from our Group who attended the meeting and we were wrongly informed
that your name was Mark Castle. We apologise for that. However
in your email to me of 4th June, 2008 you merely signed your
name. You gave no indication that you held any office at Sydney
Gas. You signed the letter attached to that email over the printed
name of Andy Lukas. We assumed you were Andy Lukas’ secretary.
It is your letter of 16th June which describes you as Acting
CEO. We are still not aware of your actual standing in Sydney
Gas. We believe that the three persons mentioned are junior staff, although
we did not know that Liz Flaherty was actually staff, we thought she
was a consultant PR person.
- See b above.
- We are aware of the content
of the access agreements that have been divulged to us. It was
the community of Wollombi who informed us they didn’t understand.
- This is an objective observation
of all members of the community whom we represent. It is supported
by all the material we have set out to date, including that which we
included in our letter to Dr. Saunders of today’s date. In relation
to your claim that the CCC is a very good forum for communication, we
agree that it should be. However, you have elected to not comply
with its charter, as previously set out, in that amongst other things
you failed to inform the CCC that the REF for the 5 coreholes was being
prepared; failed to inform the CCC that the REF had been lodged; failed
to inform the CCC that the approval had been granted; failed to inform
the CCC that you had failed to consult with the communities of Wollombi
and Paynes Crossing; failed to respond, prior to approval, to the matters
our Group raised in relation to the REF; sought deferment of the CCC
meeting until after the REF was lodged and approval given.
- We are of the view that our
assertions are representative of the view of the vast majority of the
community and certainly, from our observations, representative of the
majority of those in attendance at your meeting. To assist you
in your own assertions, please advise: How many landowners have welcomed
you onto their land to conduct exploration; please identify them; upon
what basis have you assumed that you were “welcomed”; how many landholders
have indicated their support for your exploration; please name them.
- Andy Lukas is at odds with
prior CEO’s, but more to the point he is at odds with himself.
In his letter of 29th May 2008 he says in point 12 that “it
is extremely unlikely” that coring would impact on groundwater or
surface water resources.” In point 14 of the same letter he
says he “can confirm categorically, that there will be absolutely
no impact on the groundwater….”. This sort of advice does
make it hard for the community to have any confidence at all.
Andy Lukas also advised in point 12 that you would not be drilling in
the vicinity of the Wollombi Brook so there “is no potential impact”.
In fact you are drilling through the water tables and aquifers which
feed the Brook, so the potential for impact is indeed there. In
relation to the question of subsidence, we appreciate your confirmation.
This matter had not been clarified. We had not known prior to now whether
your Land and Community Manager had made an error or whether she had
simply been told to change her advice for other reasons.
You have a copy of
the independent hydrogeological assessment in Dooralong/Yarramalong,
as does the Department. We refer you to it.
The coal mining companies
are not drilling through or under the alluvials, water tables or aquifers.
The coal mining companies we refer to are those operating locally and
whose operations are carefully controlled by their conditions of consent
and the Mining Act. Those controls do not exist under the Petroleum
- The environmental damage
seen at Camden consisted of farming land which had been blighted with
numerous large buildings, well infrastructure, piping infrastructure,
SIS drilling rigs, noise, vibration, night time light emanations, and
the like. It is also noted that on 5th April, 2004,
Sydney Gas was served with a Clean Up Notice following a pollution incident
involving the escape of fracturing water contaminating the ground with
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon species…high in pH and salt.
It is understood that Sydney Gas complied with the Clean Up Notice.
damage at Wyong is shown in photographs of the Springs property of which
you are aware.
It is not inferred
that Sydney Gas has any relationship to those who are engaged in CSM
exploration and extraction in the Powder River Basin, however it is
clear that, in relation to Powder River Basin, the contaminated water
from the seams has resulted in the death of flora and sterilisation
of farming land. We have no doubt that should there be escape
of contaminated water, as occurred at your Camden site on a small scale,
and as occurred in the Pilliga, and as occurred in the Powder River
Basin, that there would be similar death of flora and associated causal
damage in the Hunter. We believe this is perfectly logical and
certainly not uniformed or misleading.
We are aware that
the practice of allowing saline water to run over a site is strictly
prohibited, but as you well know from your own experience, it happens.
Since the next meeting
of the CCC is some time away, you no longer have to look forward to
We note your intention
to not volunteer to perform a full Environmental Assessment in relation
to core holes or exploration wells. We have previously raised
with both the Department and the Minister the reasons we believe a full
EA should be undertaken for your exploration. Unfortunately that
has fallen on deaf ears and we hoped you would be responsible enough
to simply undertake such an assessment even though not specifically
- We can’t see how this can
be possibly correct, but even if the variables of topography and wind
direction were considered of low variance, surely any variance should
be investigated in the interests of the affected community. We
note, and correct us if we are wrong, that the Noise Impact Assessment
was a desktop, computer simulation. We would have thought that
when the corehole at Bulga was being drilled that proper and accurate
readings could have been taken and used as the base for future corehole
drilling, rather than using the desk top model.
- We note your comments.
They don’t really take us any further.
- Why can’t you let the community
know, now, the possible locations so that the community can have some
input, notwithstanding your correct view that the community is not entitled
to make any submissions? What are your criteria for deciding when
you ”are able to disclose” the locations?
- We have difficulty in understanding
what commercial sensitivities outweigh the right of the community to
know how their community is going to be affected.
- A full Environmental Assessment
requires you to examine your processes and its effects in a more detailed
fashion than an REF and also allows the Department of Planning to have
input into the approval process.
You have given lip-service
to the CCC throughout the whole of your last two letters, yet you have
not complied with a number of requirements set out in the Charter of
the CCC in that, amongst other things:
- You failed to inform the CCC
that you had signed access and compensation agreements in respect of
any further coreholes;
- You failed to inform the CCC
that you were in the process of preparing the REF in respect of the
- You orchestrated an adjournment
of the CCC until after you had provided a copy of the REF to Barry Smith
and, more importantly until after approval;
- You failed to provide the
CCC with a copy of answers to our concerns relating to the REF until
These actions can give
rise to nothing other than suspicion of deceit; of exploration by stealth.
We don’t need to wait until the next CCC meeting to provide this explanation.
We don’t see it as
necessary that everything be done through the CCC. There is no
reason we can’t discuss the exploration outside the walls of the CCC
and take any agreement, or lack of agreement, or outstanding question,
into the CCC. This not only saves the time of the CCC in its meetings,
but gives all parties more time to consider matters. I can’t
see why you would be disappointed that we would try and address concerns
prior to CCC meetings, particularly when they are not held as regularly
as the Charter requires. For the above reasons we see it as important
to have as much dialogue as possible. If we saved all our dialogue
for the CCC meetings, matters simply would not be fully or adequately
addressed by virtue of the lack of time.
Please provide details
of how many members of the community have indicated support for your
activities; how many have thanked you for communicating with them; please
We note your assertion
you have always been engaged in CCC meetings, yet you resisted our attempts
to have the Minister form the Committee in relation to the Hunter Bulga
Finally, all our correspondence
is distributed by either us or by Sydney Gas to the CCC members.
We are not addressing any concerns outside the CCC forum. In any event,
there is no reason at all why concerns should not be addressed at any
time rather than awaiting formal CCC meetings.
Your responses were not
published in the Cockfighter due to editorial deadlines. We had not
had time to read your responses prior to the deadline. You are quite
correct that we published your responses forthwith on our website and
forwarded a copy to all members of our Group.
At the time of writing
of the article in the Cockfighter we had been ignored. We were
ignored from the time of writing our letter to you regarding the REF,
until after the approval was granted.
We note your advice that
you offered to meet with us. As we have said above, we had no idea who
you were (and still don’t know your standing in the company) and had
no intention of meeting with a person who we thought was Andy Lukas’
secretary. As we also said to you in an email of 4th
June, 2008, it is Dr. Saunders with whom we wished to meet, and he was
well aware why.
Again, we don’t see
why it is necessary for us to wait until the next meeting of the CCC
for us to set out for you the circumstances surrounding our activities,
and that detail is set out above.
At least there are a
number of issues on the table to discuss at the next CCC meeting, which
I hope to be able to attend.
for Bob Kennedy.
Hunter Bulga Gas Action