: Injunction against coal seam gas near Newcastle

Injunction against coal seam gas near Newcastle

Elaine Johnson
New South Wales

The first injunction against coal seam gas development in New South Wales was granted by Justice Sheahan of the Land and Environment Court on 5 September 2012.

The Court’s interlocutory orders restrain the proponent, Dart Energy, from conducting any drilling for its pilot production program in Fullerton Cove near Newcastle. The injunction remains in place while the main case, heard before Justice Pepper on 15–19 October 2012, is being determined.

Dart Energy proposes to construct two vertical coal seam gas wells, and two lateral wells, drilled into two separate coal seams. The project is designed to pump water from the coal seams, at around 16,000L per day, allowing the gas to flow during a 12-month period. The purpose of the project is to test whether the gas is suitable for commercial production and sale.

The project is controversial because of its sensitive surroundings, and protests were held outside the site for nine days leading up to the injunction. Fullerton Cove is a small area 11km from Newcastle, bounded by a number of national parks and conservation areas, including the Hunter Estuary National Park which is an internationally listed wetland.

Fullerton Cove residents took Dart Energy and the Department of Trade and Investment to Court, challenging the Department’s approval of the pilot project under Part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The residents argue that the project required a full Environmental Impact Statement, including mandatory public consultation.

An injunction was necessary in this case, because Dart Energy declined to provide an undertaking that it would not proceed with drilling and production while the Court case was on foot. In granting the injunction, Justice Sheahan found that ‘if significant environmental harm is, in the end, caused beneath the surface, damages will not be an adequate remedy.’ The full judgment can be found here: http://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/action/PJUDG?jgmtid=160657

ELAINE JOHNSON is a solicitor with EDO NSW.

(2013) 38(1) AltLJ 57
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