Santos ignores 23,000 opposition submissions

Pilliga Push protectors outside the Santos office in Narrabri say they are sticking to their plan to stop CSG mining. Photo Tree Faerie.

Santos has ignored the 23,000 mainly oppositional submissions on its Environmental Impact Statement in a 1000-page response released on April 23, which claims its Narrabri Gas Project can be developed "safely" and "sustainably".

The Santos Response to Submissions for the Narrabri coal seam gas EIS fails to address the many problems that experts and community groups have raised, leaving major data gaps that increase environmental risks.

Santos claims that if the form submissions (people signing and dating a simple oppositional statement with the option of adding a personal line or two) are removed from the calculation, 58% of submissions from the local area are in favour. This is deliberate obfuscation.

In fact, of the thousands of submissions that came in — unprecedented for a mining project in NSW — just 1% were in favour of the project.

The project involves constructing 850 gas wells and hundreds of kilometres of pipelines and roads in and around the Pilliga State Forest and nearby farmland. But Santos still has not revealed exactly where it will drill the wells and where the hundreds of kilometres of pipes and roads will be.

Wilderness Society Newcastle campaign manager Naomi Hodgson said: “The Rural Fire Service highlighted this as a problem in its submission and Santos has still not revealed this information. Santos has not yet prepared a bushfire management plan or a risk management plan.

“Santos still has no plan on how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of toxic salt the project will create, apart from saying there are garbage dumps that can ‘receive general solid waste’. The NSW government cannot approve the Narrabri coal seam gas scheme when such critical information is missing.”

Other critics, including Gamilaraay Traditional Owners and local farmers, agree that Santos' response has failed to address the many problems raised by the community.

Coonabarabran resident Jane Judd said: “This response from Santos is woefully inadequate, especially when it comes to water.

“They have point blank refused to conduct the extra baseline data collection on groundwater dependent ecosystems recommended by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee.

“What is the point of having an expert water group to review gas mining proposals if Santos is free to just ignore them?

Local ecologist David Paull said: “Santos has refused to conduct any further research on the koala population in the project area, despite admitting that it is in severe decline.

“The Office of Environment and Heritage had acknowledged concerns about the koala and referred to the usefulness of an additional expert report to assess potential impacts, but Santos didn’t deliver.

“The Narrabri Gas Project will do extensive damage to the Pilliga Forest, as well as clearing endangered ecosystems and putting unique threatened species like the Pilliga mouse at risk.”

Hodgson agreed, saying: “The Pilliga is the only home for the Pilliga mouse, the national stronghold for the south-eastern long-eared microbat, the NSW stronghold for the barking owl, and the most important home for koalas and the black-striped wallaby in inland NSW.

“The Pilliga Forest is the largest temperate forest left in eastern Australia, the most important wildlife refuge for many endangered and threatened animals. It contains 900 native plant species, 240 bird species and more than 100 animal species, and many are threatened or endangered. In the project area alone, there are 23 nationally listed threatened species and 38 state-listed threatened species.

“Loss of hollow-bearing trees will have a major impact on these threatened species, yet Santos can’t say how many hollow-bearing trees will be lost because it has not mapped them or even sited where the wells, roads, pipelines and associated clearing will go.

“Santos plans to drill in the most fertile part of the forest, the Pilliga Outwash zone, where there are better soils, higher productivity and more animals. Santos’s operations have already silted up watercourses through the Pilliga and the company wants to extract 37 billion litres of groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin below.

“It’s little wonder there is such strong community opposition from farmers, Traditional Owners, townspeople and environmentalists when a project will have such a major impact and Santos still refuses to reveal critical information.”