Farmers Take Santos to Court in Search for Answers on Bore Water Contamination

Published: May 21, 2014

Farmers in north-west NSW have today launched legal proceedings to force CSG company Santos to produce all of the information it holds relating to possible contamination of two water bores on a farmers property, south of Narrabri.

In 2012, a farmer whose land adjoins a Santos CSG site, found that his household drinking bore had turned foul and he has not been able to use it again.  Another bore on the property, closer to the CSG site, has also shown effects of possible contamination.

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Farmers in the area have been searching for answers ever since and have approached Santos repeatedly to provide all of their water monitoring data in the area, but have received very little information or assistance.

Today, farming group Mullaley Gas and Pipeline Accord Inc (MGPA), represented by environmental law experts EDO NSW, has applied to the NSW Land and Environment Court for preliminary discovery under civil procedure laws. 

“Our client is seeking a court order requiring Santos to furnish any data, documentation or other information relevant to potential groundwater contamination on the property near Narrabri,” said EDO NSW principal solicitor Sue Higginson.

David Quince, a farmer on the Liverpool plains and chairman of the MGPA, said  his group was seeking to uncover important information about Santos CSG activities in the region using legitimate court procedures.  

"We believe there is a case that CSG activity has caused this groundwater pollution incident, however we are missing a few vital pieces of information.

"We're disappointed that it has come to this.  We've been left with no choice because all other avenues of obtaining information have been exhausted, and it is vital that we now get enough information to assess the impact ofSantos activities on groundwater resources.

"We have been driven to this action as a result of the secrecy employed by Santos and the disinterest shown by the NSW government.  We are acting now out of our deep concern for the future of groundwater in our region and the major risks posed to it by CSG drilling.

"The recent revelations surrounding a separate pollution event, where Santos CSG activities in the nearby Pilliga forest have contaminated groundwater with uranium at levels 20 times drinking water standards, has added to the urgency of our action.

"We're gravely concerned for the future of farming in our region and our ability to produce clean, high quality food and fibre for the people of Australia" he said.

Information or comment:  David Quince  0427 442 382

EDO NSW principal solicitor Sue Higginson 0428 227 363

See background briefing note attached. 

Attachment 1: Background Briefing Note

Bore Water Incident

  • A water bore on a property south of Narrabri became undrinkable in March 2012. 
  • The farmer was advised by Santos that the water was unfit for domestic purposes in April 2012.
  • A second water bore on the property has since also shown effects of possible contamination.
  • Local farmers have sought advice on the possible causes from numerous sources but have received no plausible explanation.

Property Location

  • The property is located approximately 42km south of Narrabri and is used as a working sheep farm.
  • It immediately adjoins a property with 7 active CSG exploration wells, known as the Dewhurst 8 pilot production site, which are approximately 2km from the affected house bore and 1km from the affected far bore (refer to map).

Santos History in the Narrabri Region

  • Santos took over full operation of the Narrabri gas project from Eastern Star Gas in November 2011.
  • Prior to that, Santos had held a 20% share in Eastern Star Gas and a 35% share in Petroleum Exploration Licence 238 which covers the Narrabri gas project area.
  • In July 2012, the EPA issued two fines for the discharge of polluted wastewater from CSG activities into Bohena Ck.
  • In January 2014, Santos were found guilty of 4 environmental offences under the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 and fined $52,000.
  • In February 2014, Santos were fined for contaminating an aquifer with high levels of uranium at the Biblewindi water storage site in the Pilliga Forest
  • Santos are currently under investigation by both the EPA and the OCSG for separate environmental incidents in the Pilliga over the last 4 months.
  • There has been a long history of environmental failure in CSG exploration in the Pilliga, with more than 20 known incidents of spills, leakages and environmental incidents.

Current Activity

  • Santos has recently applied to drill 850 CSG production wells in the Narrabri area, stretching across 98,000 hectares of land.
  • In February, the NSW Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Santos to fast-track the Narrabri production project.
  • CSG drilling in the area has been the subject of sustained community opposition, with 21 people having been arrested to date, mostly local farmers and residents, and many hundreds taking action in the Pilliga to oppose Santos drilling activities.

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