AGL told government officials in September that up to 100,000 standard cubic feet of gas were emitted over about two hours. Photo: Rob Homer
The amount of coal seam gas thought to have gushed from a well near homes at Camden last year was up to 10 times more than the figure energy company AGL later made public, government documents show, prompting claims the public was kept in the dark.
Documents obtained under freedom of information laws also revealed a series of safety issues and accidents at the company’s 144-well Camden Gas Project. They include a rig manager who worked 21 days’ straight and a sudden release of gas that injured workers.
Coal seam gas is shaping as a hotly fought state election issue in rural and regional NSW, amid public concern over the pollution of land, water and air.
Radio host Alan Jones, whose castigation of Queensland’s LNP government over coal mining is likely to have contributed to the party’s electoral walloping, is a vocal opponent of coal seam gas mining near homes. Asked on ABC’s Q&A program on Monday if he would take up the coal seam gas issue during the NSW election campaign, Mr Jones said the Baird government would have to “face the consequences” unless public concerns were addressed.
On August 31 last year, coal seam gas was released from a well about 200 metres from homes at Camden after a pressure valve was activated. Alarmed residents reportedly heard a loud hissing noise and smelt gas.
Emails show that on September 5, AGL told government officials that up to 100,000 standard cubic feet of gas were emitted over about two hours. This figure was not made public.
On September 30, AGL publicly released a report into the incident. It said about 10,000 standard cubic feet of gas was released – 10 per cent of its original estimate.
AGL supplied that figure to the Environment Protection Authority in mid-September, but took two weeks to release it publicly.
A spokesman for Energy Minister Anthony Roberts said AGL’s initial estimate assumed gas flowed continuously. He said the lower figure, based on data from the well, more accurately assumed that the gas flowed intermittently.
However this is at odds with AGL’s email to departmental officials, which said its initial estimate was based on the valve operating “not continuously”.