Narrabri community group People for the Plains lodged an appeal on August 29 against a decision of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court to uphold the approval of Santos's coal seam gas (CSG) wastewater treatment plant near the Pilliga Forest in north-west NSW.
The approval was given for the Leewoood CSG wastewater plant without an Environmental Impact Statement or public consultation. That approval was upheld by the court on August 1.
The facility was approved as part of Santos's CSG exploration activities, but People for the Plains will again argue in court that the nature and scale of the facility is such that it should be treated as an independent development, which would be subject to a full Environmental Impact Statement and public scrutiny. The group says the approval process must begin from scratch.
People for the Plains spokesperson Sally Hunter said the appeal was not undertaken lightly, but a Senior Counsel had reviewed the judgement and believed an appeal had "reasonable prospects" of success. That and the backing of the community meant the group was confident of success.
Hunter said the group was also concerned about the precedent the court's ruling set and how that precedent would be changed if the challenge were successful.
"With so many approvals going on at the moment for mines and other resource projects, we thought it was setting a dangerous precedent," she said . "If we can demonstrate this project wasn't given enough scrutiny, then hopefully future projects will be examined more closely by the government.
“Leewood is an industrial-scale CSG facility, designed to treat 1.5 million litres of wastewater every day. It is critically important for the environment of our region that its impacts are properly assessed.
“Santos must suspend work onsite, go back to the drawing board and follow the full and proper process to obtain development consent, as we believe they should have done from the outset.
“Santos' plans for coal seam gas in the Pilliga and beyond in north-west NSW would drill through the Great Artesian Basin and risk our region's lifeblood, our groundwater.”
People for the Plains will be represented by public interest environmental lawyers Environmental Defenders Office NSW. Its principal solicitor Sue Higginson said the laws relating to CSG exploration and infrastructure were complex.
“It is really important that the proper legal procedures are followed for this development as it will set a precedent for exploration-related projects in the future.
“Our client will argue before the Court of Appeal that the legal framework for CSG exploration does not — and was never intended to — exempt industrial scale, long-term projects such as the Leewood facility from requiring development consent.”
The appeal comes as the Victorian Labor government announced plans to permanently ban exploration and development of unconventional gas, along with Labor winning power in the Northern Territory election on the back of its promise to implement a similar moratorium.
[The appeal is scheduled for first mention on October 26. People for the Plains have set up a crowdfunding page to raise funds for the appeal at chuffed.org/project/people-v-santos-20-court-of-appeal.]