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Protests against Coal Seam Gas at Varroville

on Saturday, 24 December 2011. Posted in News

Religious Sisters Break Silence to Protest Sydney Coal Seam Gas Project

The Most Reverend Peter Ingham, Bishop of Wollongong has given his full support to Varroville's religious community of Discalced Carmelite nuns in their battle to prevent coal seam gas (CSG) drilling in south western Sydney's environmentally-protected Scenic Hills.

The community has also received emails, telephone calls and letters of encouragement from Sydneysiders as well as people from across NSW and interstate, expressing their shared concern about the rapid expansion of the coal seam gas industry.

"After my radio interview with the ABC last week, Bishop Ingham rang to offer his support and told me how he greatly valued the presence of our community of Discalced Carmelites in the Wollongong Diocese, as well as those of the Carmelite friars and Carmelite missionaries, all of whom could be affected if the coal seam gas project goes ahead," Discalced Carmelite, Sister Jocelyn Kramer told Catholic Communications this morning.

The Discalced Carmelites at Varroville are a contemplative order dedicated to a life of prayer. They live an enclosed life. But Sr Kramer and members of her community are so concerned about AGL Energy's application to sink coal seam gas wells throughout the Scenic Hills from Mt Annan to Denham Court, that in a rare move they are speaking out.

Under expanded plans for its Camden Gas Project, AGL wants to construct 72 wells from Mt Annan to Denham Court, including six near to the Discalced Carmelites Friars' Retreat Centre at Varroville. This despite the fact Extractive Industries and Mining are currently prohibited by Environmental Protection Zoning.
Situated north of Campbelltown on the south western periphery of metropolitan Sydney, Scenic Hills is home to several religious communities including the Discalced Carmelite sisters, the discalced Carmelite Friars, the Marist Brothers, the Poor Clare nuns, the Francisican Friars as well as a Serbian Orthodox community.

"We chose to live in Varroville over 20 years ago, deciding on the area because of its scenic beauty and tranquillity which support our way of life, and the fact the region was protected by Environmental Protection Zoning," Sr Kramer explains. "But now AGL plans to locate up to six wells on the Serbian Orthodox property next door to us."

AGL has acknowledged that construction of each group of six wells to be sunk in the area would involve six months of continuous noise, 24 hours a day, seven day a week. The ongoing noise both from construction, together with the later operation and maintenance of the wells would have a detrimental effect on the community's life and daily religious services, Sr Kramer says but admits that even if the situation becomes untenable, her community has nowhere else to go.

"We do not own the land, only the building and as a bunch of 12 ageing women, we are not in a position to up and move anywhere, we just don't have the wherewithal to do that.
The nearby discalced Carmelite Friars' Retreat Centre founded more than 40 years ago attracts men and women from across Australia as well as from overseas. But with the proposal to mine coal seam gas in the area, the Centre's future is also at risk.

"But we are concerned not only for ourselves and our own backyard but for the entire area," Sr Kramer insists and believes if the NSW Minister for Planning approves AGL's plans for CSG mining in Scenic Hills, the region will become irreversibly industrialised, with much of its beauty and unique environment destroyed forever.

She and the other sisters from her community are not only concerned about the long term damage caused by mining and the accompanying infrastructure of roads, pipelines, water storage tanks and heavy vehicle traffic, but believe if permission to sink wells is granted to AGL, it could create an easy "back door" for wells to be sunk in other Sydney suburbs such as St Peter's in the city's inner west.

Exploratory drilling in St Peters by Dart Energy was given the green light by the NSW Department of Industry and Investment by the previous Labour Government. However after a series of public rallies and petitions, drilling set for September this year was put on hold until 2012.

"There are many unknowns in relation to the CSG industry, among them the impact of coal seam gas extraction on surface and ground water, air quality and human health," Sr Kramer said in her submission on behalf of her community to the current NSW Legislative Inquiry into the environmental health, economic and social impact of coal seam gas activities.

The Inquiry which began in August will hand down its findings in April 2012, and for the past four months has been accepting submissions from across the State as well as holding public hearings, the most recent of which took place last week in the Southern Highlands and also here in Sydney at NSW Parliament House.

"As a religious community we recognise economic development is necessary and we welcome research and development into renewable energy sources," Sr Kramer wrote in her submission."We also believe unashamedly that there are important and enduring assets money cannot buy, which short-sighted economic developments can irrevocably destroy in their haste to make money for the few."

Source: Catholic Communications, Sydney 
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