Coal seam gas project draws fire


A coal seam gas protest was held on Sea Cliff Bridge last year. Coal seam gas explorer Ormil Energy has announced plans to raise more than $$4.3 million from shareholders to develop projects in the Illawarra and overseas.

The company, which has a joint venture with Apex Energy for a 16-borehole exploration project around Darkes Forest and Helensburgh, has also moved its head office from Sydney to Perth.

The developments come as Apex seeks approval from the Department of Planning to modify its Part 3A approval for the Illawarra project and extend the expiry date from September 22.

The impending expiry plus problems renewing a key exploration licence have cast doubt over the project.

Apex now wants the expiry date changed to “three years from commencement of drilling of the first bore hole”, which would effectively mean an indefinite extension with no start date listed.

The company believes the project, located partly in Sydney’s drinking water catchment, could potentially supply 20 per cent of the city’s gas for 20 years or more.

At present it is only at the exploration stage and further approvals would be required to begin production.

Corporate development manager Chris Lawrence said between 150 and 200 wells were envisaged over the entire life of the project.

About half of those would be drilled at the beginning, following exploration, while others would be opened over subsequent years as expired wells were capped.

Apex’s drilling plans face strong community opposition in Illawarra and were drawn into a wider debate this week when the NSW Greens called on the government to reject the project.

“[NSW Premier] Barry O’Farrell has a critical decision to make: approve the development of poisonous coal seam gas wells in our drinking water catchments and suburbs, or reject Apex’s extension and protect these areas,” Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said.

Apex’s modification application said more than 10,000 boreholes had been drilled in the southern Sydney basin during the Illawarra’s long mining history, including in designated special areas.

“In the time frame which we have been following processes to drill exploration boreholes, we believe the coalmining industry would have drilled over 50 boreholes in the area of a similar type,” it said.