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East Pilliga farmers forgotten in Department’s Santos assessment

Farmers east of the Pilliga fear they have been “erased” from the NSW Planning Department’s assessment of the Santos Narrabri gas field.

The 15 bores, which connect to the deep water of the Gunnedah Oxley Basin, were referenced in Santos’ original Groundwater Impact Assessment (on page 4-39 and 4-40. Map on page 4/43).

But there is no mention of them in the Planning Department’s assessment of the project.

What’s more, warnings (P 315) from the Water Expert Panel convened to advise on the project say the crude model used by Santos has “poor predictive capacity in relation to the impact of production of the surrounding impacted water sources,” meaning these water users may be left high and dry.

The Department of Planning’s Water Division has made clear that the model being used by Santos cannot predict impacts on landholder’s bores and has said “limited information about water supply works is available for the Gunnedah-Oxley Basin.

Much of the attention of the assessment has so far focused on the productive shallow aquifers of the region which most farmers use - the Namoi Alluvium and the Pilliga Sandstone and the degree to which these will be affected by depressurisation and dewatering deep below. 

But Gunnedah Oxley Basin water user Mal Donaldson said the Planning Department had totally overlooked the threat the gasfield posed to his and other nearby farmers’ water supplies.

There are naturally occurring high levels of methane in one of Mr Donaldson’s bores.

He said this indicated a likely connection between the coal seams Santos was targeting, and the basin.

“I am seriously concerned that should Santos’ destructive gas field go ahead, my water bore will become a gas bore,” Mr Donaldson said.

“My father had this bore drilled over nine months in 1953-54, yet the Planning Department behaves like it doesn’t exist.

“This is an insult to farmers in this region. We exist. Our farms exist and they rely on this water. If the Planning Commission ignores us too, it could have far reaching, negative implications for us.”

Lock the Gate NSW coordinator Georgina Woods urged the Independent Planning Commission to pay particular attention to the plight of the farmers to the east of the Pilliga when it considers Santos’ proposal at the end of the month.

“After battling an unprecedented drought for years, the Planning Department’s omission is yet another blow for farmers in this district. It is not good enough to let Santos proceed with this gasfield on the basis of closing your eyes and hoping she’ll be right,” she said.

“These farmers could lose their water if this gasfield is allowed to go ahead. No one in Government so far has stood up for them and made Santos find out what the impact on them will be. 

“The Independent Planning Commission needs to hear what they have to say.” 

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