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Historic Legal Battle Begins Over CSG Waste: People vs Santos

An historic court battle will commence in the NSW Land and Environment today, Wednesday 6 April, as the first ever legal challenge against a CSG waste project gets underway.

The Court will be hearing a challenge against construction of the controversial Phase 2 of the Leewood CSG waste water treatment plant near Narrabri. Local Narrabri community group ‘People for the Plains’ has taken legal action against Santos and the NSW Government over the approval of the industrial facility, and have travelled to Sydney for the hearing.

Local Narrabri residents will gather outside the Land and Environment Court in Sydney with supporters from 9am, Wednesday 6th April.

People for the Plains will argue that Santos must obtain development consent because the intensity and scale of this industrial development is not something that can simply be classified as CSG exploration.

The Leewood Phase 2 water treatment plant will involve:

  • The treatment of up to 1.5 million litres of toxic, salty waste water each day, which has been extracted from the coal seams
  • The production of 500 million litres of concentrated brine by the end of the project, requiring dewatering, transportation and disposal of thousands of tonnes of salt.
  • A commercial irrigation project using treated wastewater

An initial review of the Santos Leewood proposal by the Department of Primary Industries assessed the project as a "high risk of having significant adverse impacts and the potential loss of the agricultural capacity of the lands affected by the proposal” and stated that the "soils are highly sodic and currently unsuitable for irrigation and unlikely to be remediated"[1].

Construction on the facility began in December 2015 after approval was granted in August of 2015. A photo archive of CSG activities in the Pilliga is available here and aerial photos of CSG wastewater being held at Leewood awaiting treatment and disposal are available here.

Sally Hunter of People for the Plains said that “The risks of storing and then irrigating these vast amounts of CSG waste on farmland in our region are severe.

“Salt is the enemy of agriculture and Santos’ plans are a major risk to our vulnerable soils which do not tolerate salt, and should not have to tolerate irrigation with Santos’ treated waste water.

“These types of large, risky waste projects should not be approved without a full and thorough Environmental Impact Statement nor without extensive public consultation. However, that is exactly what has happened here. 

“The Baird Government is allowing Santos to roll out its CSG plans without thorough environmental assessment and without giving us, the local community, the opportunity to have our serious concerns heard.

“Every exploration CSG well, wastewater dam or treatment plant that gets approval without a development consent or a proper environmental assessment is doing incremental damage to our local environment and we are hoping that this court case will put a stop to that” she said.

Naomi Hodgson from The Wilderness Society said: “Santos has stated that it has put the project on the go-slow after it devalued the project and downgraded the gas reserves, yet they keep putting our water and soil at risk through industrial activities like the Leewood treatment plant.


‘The project has no social licence and is not financially viable. Santos must stop the destruction of the Pilliga forest and the risks to the critical water resources of the Great Artesian Basin that lies beneath it, and walk away” she said.

If People for the Plains is successful, Santos will be required to stop the construction and operation of Leewood. It is then up to Santos to decide whether to carry on trying to build the Leewood Plant.

If it decides to carry on it would need to follow the law, apply for development consent and prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement that would be placed on public exhibition, allowing public participation and greater transparency.

[1] DPI Comments on Leewood Phase 2, 29th April 2015 


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