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Richmond Valley residents reject coal seam gas exploration in new survey


Sharlene King
22 October 2013

Residents in the Richmond Valley are overwhelmingly against the coal seam gas industry in their region, according to a new survey by Southern Cross University researchers.

More than half of the residents (65 per cent) surveyed indicated they were against the development of the coal seam gas (CSG) industry in the Richmond Valley, 18 per cent were in support, and 17 per cent were undecided.

The face to face survey of 605 residents, representing almost six per cent of all voters in the Richmond Valley local government area (LGA), was undertaken on Saturday September 7 to coincide with the federal election.

A smaller election day survey of 177 residents in the Lismore City LGA was completed in conjunction with the Richmond Valley election day survey. The survey of Lismore region residents was a follow-up to the exit survey conducted there during the 2012 NSW local government elections. That 2012 exit survey explored voters’ responses to Lismore City Council’s referendum-style question which was designed to guide the Council’s response to the issue of coal seam gas.

"The surveys show the community on the NSW North Coast does recognise the potential for the CSG industry to bring employment and financial opportunities, but this is outweighed by fears of potential long-term negative impacts on natural water systems in the Richmond Valley and Lismore local government areas," said Hanabeth Luke, report co-author and PhD candidate.

"What the latest surveys show is a lack of support by the Lismore or the Richmond Valley communities, with the strongest feeling held by those against the development of the CSG industry.”

The results showed the key motivation in supporting the gas industry was the provision of jobs and an improved regional economy, while the key motivation to not support the development of the CSG industry was the potential for impacts on natural water systems and community health.

“I expected the level of support for CSG in Richmond Valley LGA to be higher than was found, given the amount of gas exploration that has been underway there for several years now. I also expected there to be more of a drop in opposition to CSG in the Lismore LGA following the suspension of activities by Metgasco, but the drop has been slight at only two percentage points (from 87 per cent to 85 per cent),” she said.

"This research on community views to CSG will have important implications for future planning and development decisions in large portions of the federal electorate of Page, which is almost completely covered by petroleum exploration licenses of one sort or another."

The full election day survey results are contained in the report, ‘Preliminary report on community perspectives of gas industry developments in Page‘ .

The question asked of voters at 10 polling booths in the Richmond Valley LGA was “Do you support coal-seam gas exploration and production in the Richmond Valley Council area?”

The Richmond Valley takes in the towns of Casino, Evans Head, Coraki, Woodburn and Rappville. The region is located south of Lismore and Ballina on the NSW North Coast.

The purpose of the survey was to gauge the motivations behind people's perspectives of the CSG industry, the strength of that feeling, level of knowledge, preferred sources of information and whether participants would be prepared to change their minds on the issue. Survey participants were also asked how they had voted in the election.

Hanabeth will present her findings at 2.30pm on Wednesday October 23 at the Lismore campus during the 2nd annual School of Environment, Science and Engineering Postgraduate Conference.

Doctoral candidate Hanabeth Luke’s research on ‘Community responses to industrialisation of the rural landscape’ has been focusing on stakeholder perspectives of coal seam gas (CSG) and other related gas mining developments by bringing together the views of scientists, policy makers, industry and community members alike. Her three case studies are Lismore (NSW), Richmond Valley (NSW) and the Western Downs (Qld). The research is being carried out under the supervision of Dr David Lloyd from the Southern Cross University School of Environment, Science and Engineering.

Richmond Valley Council did not commission the survey. It approved the survey being conducted at polling booths in its LGA.
Photo: Hanabeth Luke at a Richmond Valley polling booth on federal election day.