ABC: Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has stirred debate within Opposition ranks, saying a future Coalition government would support coal seam gas extraction "under the right circumstances".
Speaking in Tamworth, where the issue has caused considerable controversy, Mr Abbott has told ABC Radio open-cut mining causes far more environmental damage.
But opponents of CSG, including colourful Queensland MP Bob Katter, say Mr Abbott does not know what he is talking about.
Mr Abbott has moved to allay some of the fears about the industry.
"There's a big difference between coal seam gas extraction and open-cut mining," he said.
"Open-cut mining is a devastating thing. Coal seam gas extraction, by contrast, involves relatively little disturbance of the surface, a relatively modest area for the plant itself, some roads and fences.
"One of the reasons why a lot of the farmers are quite happy to see the extraction is because as part of the process they get their roads upgraded."
Mr Abbott said, however, that coal seam gas extraction sites should only be approved "under the right circumstances".
"I think there are very legitimate concerns about the impact on the water table," he said.
"This is our nation's bread basket, this is a priceless asset for future generations, and we have to be incredibly careful not to compromise because our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren won't thank us if we do," he said.
Mr Abbott made the comments in the New England electorate of independent MP Tony Windsor.
"There's a number of factors that I don't think Tony Abbott seems to understand," Mr Windsor said.
"When coal mining activity takes place, the coal mines generally buy the land that they mine and they're quite entitled to mine that land.
"Coal seam gas companies don't actually purchase the land. They can come onto the land, they can put wells down and extract the gas without recognition of the existing land use on top of that land."
That process has frustrated some farming communities and prompted protests about their rights.
In an interview on commercial radio last year, Mr Abbott backed farmers' rights over CSG explorers coming onto their land.
Mr Windsor has other concerns.
"The mixing of various groundwater aquifers, the impact in the Murray-Darling system - a lot of that work hasn't been done," he said.
"So I'd be a little bit concerned that a leader of one of the major parties would be prompting the issue without going into what the real issue is, and that's the scientific verification."
Mr Katter says drilling holes through aquifers is "extremely hazardous".
"I regret to say the Leader of the Opposition, I strongly applaud him in other areas, but in this particular area I think he should butt out because he doesn't know what he's talking about."
Drew Hutton from the Lock the Gate Alliance also says Mr Abbott's comments are misguided.
"The wells themselves are only a small part of it, if you include the amount of tree clearing that will be necessary for the thousands of kilometres of pipeline which are going to be built," he said.
"Then, you're talking about rates of land clearing we haven't seen in this land for a decade."
some other Coalition MPs and senators have been campaigning against the
expansion of the industry, Rick Wilkinson from the Australian Petroleum
Production & Exploration Association says more people are
recognising the benefits of the industry.
"I think there's growing support as we build the knowledge of coal seam gas, how the companies interact and support regions, creating employment and economic growth, and I think that's starting to be acknowledged."
In a statement, the Australian Coal Association says less than 0.5 per cent of New South Wales is used for mining and that land is restored.
The federal environment and resources ministers were not available for comment.
By Emma Griffiths and George Roberts
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