Santos faces avalanche of opposition to Narrabri gas project

May 5, 2017
Santos' plan to drill 850 coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga is being hotly contested.

Thousands of submissions are being written across NSW opposing oil and gas giant Santos’s environmental impact statement (EIS) for its Narrabri Gas Project in the Pilliga. Before the May 22 deadline, thousands more will be written.

If the community’s views are heard, Santos’ plan to drill 850 coal seam gas (CSG) wells at 425 sites in and around the Pilliga State Forest near Narrabri — covering an area of about 1000 hectares — will be canned. 

While submission writing is a normal part of the campaign against unwanted gas projects, this one has fuelled the ire of many — including farmers, city dwellers and those in the township of Narrabri — once known as a “company” town. 

“Santos’s propaganda on unconventional gas is just not cutting through”, Marie Flood from Stop CSG Sydney told Green Left Weekly

“Too many people across NSW now know about the risks associated with this industry and are not prepared to give it the nod, especially as there are so many benign alternatives.”

Santos has been trying to get the Narrabri Gas Project running for at least three years. It released its EIS only this year — after it began work on the wastewater treatment plant. 

The NSW government has done everything in its power to help Santos, including making Narrabri a “Strategic Energy Project”, which meant it was fast-tracked through the planning system. 

But Gomeroi people, community and farmer-led campaigns have slowed this right down. Raymond “Bubbly” Weatherall from the Gunu Gunu and Biridja clans told Green Left Weekly last year that they were very worried about Santos’s vast exploration leases, which reach from Moree in NSW to Gladstone in Queensland.

As Santos started work on its holding pond and irrigation system before the verdict of an appeal, and with no environmental impact statement, people moved into action.

The Environmental Defenders Office, acting for local activist group People for the Plains, appealed a Land and Environment court decision that determined that Santos had not breached any law. In March, the court upheld its original decision — which incensed people further.

The Leewood waste facility is supposed to treat more than 1 million litres of toxic CSG wastewater each day. Activists say there is no current facility in NSW that would be capable of handling this amount of brine waste per day. 

Opponents of the gasfield say that as water treatment plans usually have to undergo a more rigorous examination, they are even more worried about leakage and other problems associated with the waste.

The waste streams contain toxic heavy metals, salts, radioactive solids, explosive decomposition products, drilling chemicals and toxic hydrocarbon residues.

The impact of this waste water on soil is very dangerous. After a spill in 2011, tests were conducted on samples gathered by the community that showed high alkalinity and salt levels in the soil. 

The NSW government and Santos ignored these results and did their own study. They came up with even worse results that they then did not want to release.

Santos further disgraced itself at its Annual General Meeting in Adelaide on May 4 when outgoing CEO Peter Coates confirmed it was working on a business model based on a climate change scenario of a 4°C rise in global temperatures. He described this as a “sensible” approach.

The Paris climate agreement set a target of carbon emissions that would mean a global temperatures rise of no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. But even this is too high to prevent climate disaster for part of the world say climate scientists.

Coates also used the AGM to complain that the federal government had not done enough to assist gas companies. He affirmed what everyone knows, that there is no gas shortage, and criticised the federal government’s decision to establish a mechanism to restrict gas exports when there was a supply shortage from July 1.

As Santos has spent billions in establishing three large Liquid Natural Gas processing plants near Gladstone in Queensland to reap the mega profits from higher gas prices overseas, this is no surprise. Now, the company is posting losses — $2.7 billion this year, up from last year’s loss of $935 million.

Anti-CSG activists are mobilising to take the thousands of submissions to the NSW Department of Land and Environment on May 12, 10 days before the submission period closes.

[Join the avalanche of opposition and make your submission here.]

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