The Synod said the Government should amend the NSW Strategic Regional Land Use Plan so that it identifies and protects from coal mining and coal seam gas exploration and mining:
· areas which should be kept strictly for sustainable agriculture and food production;
· irreplaceable water resources including underground aquifers; and
· high conservation value areas including forests and wilderness areas.
Synod, meeting on April 15 at Knox Grammar School, Sydney, heard how the New South Wales Government had moved recently to protect certain areas including residential areas, wineries and horse studs from CSG exploration and mining.
However, valuable farmland, forests and aquifers in the New England and North West remained unprotected from CSG and coal mining threats.
Synod was told that those agricultural areas and aquifers would be irreplaceable if damaged and the long-term economic cost to New South Wales, Australia and the world would far outweigh the short-term benefits derived from coal and CSG.
Speaking to the proposal, the Rev. Simon Hansford and the Rev. Robert Buchan, from New England North West Presbytery, said, "From the Hunter Valley, through Werris Creek, Quirindi and Gunnedah on the Liverpool Plains, through Boggabri, Narrabri and Moree on the black soil plains of the north west, the coal seam runs.
"Black soil is the ground which crops and farmers love; it holds the moisture long after a fall of rain, and is the heart of the food bowl in the Liverpool Plains and the north west.
"Let us leave for the moment the questions of social impact. Let us leave aside the issues of Fly In-Fly Out and Drive In-Drive Out miners, with the personal costs and stresses on families of twelve day shifts, let us leave aside the huge increase in alcohol and drug use for those who are working those shifts in isolated communities.
The country south, west and north-west of Tamworth is at environmental risk with the mining of coal seam gas.
The aquifer of the Artesian Basin runs a phenomenal way, to Papua New Guinea, and the risks of damage to the aquifer from fracking are considerable.
"The consequences of cracks in the aquifer and poisoned water supplies are disastrous."
They said the decision of the State Government to protect wineries and horse studs from the impacts of coal seam gas exploration was a minimal response to the issue and ignored the realities and implications for those who provided food to much of Australia and to the rest of the world.
"Political allegiances are being realigned over this issue, as the impotence of the Labor, Liberal and National parties is compared by farmers and rural communities to the action and support of Independents and the Greens, not their traditional party of choice."
They said, "The role of the church in this process is not simply to approve this proposal and move on. The role of the church is to be engaged in the conversation, offering mediation in the heat of the debate, offering a voice for those who appear to have none, in the face of the politics and the power of the mining industry."
In their rationale, Mr Bob Minton and Mr Nick Heagney said, "For generations, farmers of our district have produced food for the wider Australian and international communities.
"They have adapted their practices to ensure that future families can also live from and with the land.
"With a growing world population, we believe it is important to protect land that has a history of sustainable food production and which has provided homes and livelihoods for farmers and their employees for generations.
"As a church we should stand in solidarity with those farmers who fear for their security, health and future way of life at this time.
"Similarly, valuable forest and conservation areas, which include the habitats of some rare and endangered species are at risk of irrevocable damage. Caring for creation is a strong part of Christian tradition.
"We are called to be wise stewards of the earth. In terms of our fragile planet, we are facing an ecological crisis. Respect for nature and ecological responsibility are key parts of our faith."
This article was originally printed in Insights Magazine.