Three Knitting Nannas Against Gas were arrested on January 18 after chaining themselves to the gates of the Santos Leewood water treatment plant near Narrabri.
The Knitting Nannas, supported by about 60 anti-coal seam gas (CSG) activists, locked themselves to the Santos gates to prevent workers gaining access to the controversial Leewood evaporation ponds, where almost 600 million litres of toxic coal seam gas (CSG) waste is stored.
Santos intends to build a reverse osmosis plant on this site to concentrate the waste and use treated water for neighbouring crops. It is currently clearing bush for the water pipelines to the facility. Santos intends to drill 850 CSG wells in the Pilliga Forest above the Great Artesian Basin.
Angela Dalu, Dominique Jacobs and Theresa Mason were charged with obstructing traffic and failure to comply with police direction.
Jacobs explained why she had “locked on” to the gates: "I'm worried about the rampant resource industry in Australia. It seems that the government is failing us on this. I object to all these chemicals being put into our ground and water and these companies putting the Great Artesian Basin into jeopardy.
“We need to protect our water. The law is wrong and the police are protecting these companies. The law needs to change, so that this can't happen to our country.
“I'd never been involved in protests in my life before the CSG threat came to my home town of Gloucester,” she said. “As a mother I cannot stand back and let this destructive industry roll out across our state.”
Knitting Nannas spokeswoman Letitia Kemister said the group would protest “every single day” until the project is halted. She said the Great Artesian Basin and surrounding agricultural land would be protected at all costs. “If we put 850 gas wells into the region, we're going to have a methane mess,” she said.
Knitting Nannas co-founder Clare Twomey said the act of knitting was intended to show the group's sense of maternal nurturing. “We really needed a vehicle for women who wanted to do something for the [anti-CSG] movement,” she said. People of all ages were welcome to join the group.
By peacefully gathering at the offices of politicians, work sites, rallies or wherever they are needed, the Knitting Nannas are spreading their Nannafesto: Knit the Dream: “We peacefully and productively protest against the destruction of our land … We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and bear witness to the war against those who try to rape our land and divide our communities … We want to leave this land better than we found it, for our children, grandchildren and future generations. They deserve to have a future with a clean and healthy environment, natural beauty and biodiversity.”
The success of the Knitting Nannas has paved the way for the Northern Territory's Growling Grannies Against Gas, which was formed in November to protest fracking. Made up of Indigenous elders from remote communities in Arnhem Land, they are a growing movement of grandmothers who want to protect the land for future generations.
Naomi Hodgson, from the Wilderness Society told New Matilda that Monday's protest “was an occupation of the Leewood site which officially is Santos' private property. It was an action which was led by Gomeroi traditional owners. People walked in support of the traditional owners asserting that it is actually not Santos' property, but Gamilaraay land.”
The Leewood site has already had several incidents. The ABC reported that more than 10,000 litres of untreated wastewater leaked from a storage pond built by previous owner Eastern Star Gas in 2011. Exploration by the same owner contaminated an aquifer with uranium. When Santos took over, it built new storage ponds and has proposed a high-tech reverse osmosis treatment plant at Leewood. At capacity, the Leewood facility is expected to produce 500 megalitres of concentrated toxic waste liquid, but it only has storage for 300 megalitres. The Environmental Protection Authority has warned the ponds will be full in three years.
Santos's Energy New South Wales manager Peter Mitchley told the January 18 ABC News the company had “all approvals in place to conduct its work safely and without harm to the environment”.
The Wilderness Society said the Pilliga forest is too precious to turn into a gasfield. The area Santos wants to drill is home to many threatened species, including koalas, Pilliga mouse, superb parrot, south-eastern long-eared bat and Regent honeyeater.
Up to 200 protestors are now in the area as part of actions geared at building a movement similar to the years-long effort to save the nearby Leard State Forest.
There have been 11 arrests at the site so far. The arrested nannas are due to appear in Narrabri Local Court on February 23.
[The Pilliga Push camp is relying on donations for its work. The camp is open for visitors and ready for guests if you want to support or participate in non-violent direct actions. Call the camp on 0497 843 716 or get in touch online.]