The North West Alliance again called on the NSW Coalition government to stop Santos from stealthily proceeding with its yet-to-be approved Narrabri Gas Project expansion on December 4.
Santos is laying kilometres of new pipeline to its Wilga Park power station in north-west NSW, allowing it to access gas from exploration wells, royalty free.
Alliance spokesperson Peter Small said: “This exploration has continued to be an open-ended invitation to conduct production under the guise of exploration.”
The North West Alliance includes First Nations people, farmers and people from nearby towns who oppose Santos' controversial gas project, which they say will pose big risks to the Pilliga State Forest and the Great Artesian Basin recharge zone.
“For more than 10 years, gas from exploration wells has been generating income for the gas company, while [it is] not paying a cent in royalties to NSW”, Small said.
A legal loophole has made this possible, he said, adding that essential services such as hospitals and schools, are the worse off.
“The [Gladys] Berejiklian government went against its own department's advice to exempt the royalties.
“Recently, the NSW government granted Santos its request for an extra 1000 days to prove the viability of the Pilliga gas resource.”
The North West Alliance wants the expansion of the Narrabri Gas Project to be immediately put on hold, until after an Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation can be conducted.
“Santos has had more than 10 years to appraise the gas from its exploration. It knows how much gas there is”, Small said.
He said that Santos' is using a legal loophole to exploit the resource — under the guise of exploration — while the Department of Planning has yet to make a final decision on the project.
“We do not accept this bullying behaviour: Santos should seal off all the exploration wells, end the flaring and wait for the Department of Planning to make a final decision.”
The Santos project is stuck in the assessment process due to criticisms of its EIS by the NSW government's own agencies. The NSW Department of Planning states it requires more information before it will refer the project to the Independent Planning Commission.
Santos has not responded to the criticisms of its project by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee that identified “knowledge gaps, uncertainties and data limitations” in the Santos EIS.
It wants more Santos to provide much more information about: reservoir modelling; the groundwater monitoring plan; protecting high priority groundwater dependent ecosystems; when it plans to dump waste water into Bohena Creek; how it will monitor the creek for ammonia in particular, and its plans for managing waste water in extreme weather events. It also wanted more information about the company's produced water management system, groundwater monitoring and waste management plans that, it said, were “inadequate”.
Marie Flood from the Sydney Knitting Nannas said that Santos has been claiming for years that its wells would not be near the Great Artesian Basin recharge area.
“Earth scientists have disagreed, but Santos stuck to its story in the EIS. Now, the scientific experts found that there is a risk of more than two metres' drawdown of the Pilliga Sandstone, the productive aquifer that recharges the Great Artesian Basin,” Flood said.
The North West Alliance and Lock the Gate Alliance recently conducted a door knock of Narrabri, which found that less that a third of residents wanted the Santos Gas Project to proceed.
This, added to the record-breaking mostly oppositional 23,000 submissions against the gas project, spells out how little support Santos has locally and across NSW.
Gomeroi elder and Pilliga local Aunty Sheryl said: “The local Pilliga Aboriginal Land Council moved a motion saying we don't want any gasfields anywhere in or near the Pilliga Local Land Council boundary area.”
Stuart Murray, president of People for the Plains, said the state government's decision to extend Santos' royalty holiday means the corporation has been given 10 years to “use our gas to make money”.
He said that the fact that Santos is not obliged to pay royalties also means that neither it or the government have made any contributions to the promised $160 million Regional Community Benefit Fund, a key plank in Santos' proposal.
Santos is extracting and producing royalty-free gas under the cover of gas exploration, Murray said, adding that “gas production by stealth” must end.