WIDESPREAD condemnation erupted yesterday across the Manning and Gloucester region, following the federal government's conditional approval of AGL's 112 coal seam gas well project around Gloucester.
Independent Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott was "gutted" by the decision, his thoughts echoed by the two main players in the fight for protection of the valley's water supply and agricultural land Manning Clean Water Action Group and the Manning Alliance.
The Clean Water Action Group promised the federal government would have a fight on its hands, its chairman Chris Sheed vowing: "One thing we can be sure of is that the Taree community will stand strong with the people of Gloucester to protect our waterways."
Manning Alliance chair, Peter Epov, said the people of the Gloucester Basin and Manning Valley had become the latest collateral damage in what he called the political "punch-up" between the federal minister for sustainability, environment, water, population and communities, Tony Burke and NSW premier, Barry O'Farrell.
Mr Burke on Monday granted conditional approval for the Gloucester coal seam gas-methane project, which includes more than 100 gas seam wells and a pipeline from Gloucester to Hexham.
Mr Oakeshott said the decision would resonate for all the wrong reasons in his community.
He too vowed the fight was far from over and that he would keep looking for a legal solution that could not be challenged by the states.
Mr Oakeshott, Mr Sheed and Mr Epov all agreed the approval would devastate the Gloucester and Manning communities.
Mr Oakeshott said community concern over coal seam gas developments had taken a back seat to political stunts by the federal and NSW governments.
"(This) decision was about leaked letters between the federal and state ministers; not about what is best for Gloucester and the Manning Valley.
"I'm gutted by the decision, and I know many good people in community-based groups who have worked with me on this issue for more than two years will also be gutted.
"If we can't resolve this through legislation, I fear what could happen on the ground in communities such as Gloucester when drilling rigs roll out across the landscape.
"This is a community that has a very strong connection to the Gloucester landscape. It also relies on clean soil to export quality food and relies on clean water to drink.
"These are fundamental issues to any rural community and worth defending."
He said if the science was in, and "if we knew for certain CSG drilling represented no threat to our drinking water or to the environment", then so be it.
"But the research hasn't been done; our bioregional study has not been done and the jury is most definitely out on what the potential impacts of CSG extraction could be."
He said jurisdiction was clearly an impediment to enhancing the commonwealth's powers in planning matters regulated by the states, including the approvals process for CSG and coal-mining projects.
Mr Sheed said: "It is hard to work out what Tony Burke is playing at.
"He has made a hasty and ill informed decision. It seems the federal planning process in relation to mining and CSG is in greater disarray than that of NSW."
Mr Epov claimed minister Burke had "trashed" a promise to Gloucester and the Manning Valley.
"In what could be described as a rather strange, inexplicable and callous twist, (Mr Burke) appears to have by-passed his own protocol and the commonwealth government's undertaking to utilise the independent expert scientific assessment process to 'help build community confidence in coal seam gas and coal mining developments in sensitive areas'," (an earlier quote by minister Burke).
"This is a very disappointing decision," Mr Epov said.
"Perhaps the prime minister needs to remind Mr Burke that his callous and what appears to be politically motivated decision to give AGL conditional approval for its 112 gas wells will have serious consequences on the lives of real people within our community."
The Times early yesterday sought comment on the decision from local state members, Stephen Bromhead and Leslie Williams. Neither had replied as this edition went to press.