Hartcher defends NSW Government's stance on CSG mining
CHRIS Hartcher copped a battering by the Country Women's Association and nuns on one side and some of the world's most powerful gas producers on the other.
Looking suitably brow-beaten, the New South Wales resources minister fronted the largest gas conference in the Southern Hemisphere.
He used his speech to walk a fine line between the overwhelming concern from voters and the contempt of a curtailed industry
In the 12 months since the APPEA oil and gas conference last year, New South Wales has successfully curbed the fierce growth of the coal seam gas industry as exploration hot-spots also became tinderboxes of opposition.
Tighter regulations first introduced in September 2012 were expanded in February to include a ban on gas activity within 2km of residential townships.
This rendered some prospective developments, including major projects in northern NSW as no longer viable.
Just a day earlier, Federal Resources Minister Gary Gray and Opposition counterpart Ian Macfarlane showed a rare moment of unity in criticizing the NSW government and its restrictive legislation, especially in light of looming gas shortages.
Mr Hartcher defended the government's position, saying the industry must build community support.
He told the conference the debate around coal seam gas had a level of intensity unlike any other in his political career.
Lifetime Coalition supporters were suddenly attacking Premier Barry O'Farrell's government, driven by fear of what a gas industry could mean for their health, their environment and their towns.
"When we took office, 30% of the state was covered by CSG exploration licenses that were unknown and unexplained to the community," Mr Hartcher said.
"Within four weeks of taking office, we were facing our first demonstrations."
When that fear was combined with the debacles surrounding mining licences - now under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption - any industry support swiftly eroded.
"Witness the Country Womens' Association, a wonderful group, 90 years in existence and having never taken a political stand in its life, protesting against CSG.
"The member for Lismore (Thomas George) said to me, 'Do you realize that not only do I have everybody in the community demonstrating against me, but the nuns in the convent have written to me and they're against CSG too'."
"When you get to a point when nuns in the convent are taking a stand on these issues, you know there is some concern."