The coal seam gas industry is a driving force behind the region's positive outlook.
The coal seam gas industry is a driving force behind the region's positive outlook. Simon Green

Loophole lets council approve CSG near homes

RICHMOND Valley Council could vote to "opt out" of the NSW Government's restrictions on CSG near residential areas because of a controversial loophole in the policy.

The draft exclusion zone policy, released yesterday by the NSW Planning Department allows any council to apply to make land exempt from the widely promoted 2km residential restrictions on CSG.

NSW Greens spokesman on coal seam gas Jeremy Buckingham called the opt-out clause a "recipe for conflict" in the community, and between councils who had different positions on CSG.

"We think it's clearly designed to be a loophole which coal seam gas companies can exploit," Mr Buckingham said.

"We've seen councils be very supportive of CSG despite community opposition - you only have to look at Richmond Valley Council or Narrabri Council.

"We think there will be enormous pressure brought to bear on those councils, and potentially inducements by mining and gas companies to ensure councils opt out of this protection."

But Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said the intent of the draft proposal's opt-out clause was to allow local communities to "retain flexibility" in regard to CSG development.

"The NSW Government believes that local councils know their local areas better than anyone and has progressively been giving councils greater say in the planning decisions that affect their area," Mr Hazzard said in a statement.

"Even if a council opts out however, all proposed exploration and production activities would still need to go through the most rigorous regime of CSG regulations in the country."

The draft policy's release coincided with findings from the Queensland Health Department that widely publicised health problems in the Tara area of Queensland's Darling Downs were not the result of the CSG industry.

Gas industry body APPEA called on anti-CSG groups to "retract health scare allegations" which linked health issues among Tara residents to the CSG industry.