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Santos’ Pilliga exploration approval leave serious water problems unresolved

Farmers and concerned members of the public in the north-west of New South Wales say the approval by the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission of more exploration drilling in the Pilliga forest will exacerbate conflict over the protection of water, since it has been given without modelling being complete and without approved plans for waste water management.

The Planning and Assessment Commission yesterday approved further exploration for coal seam gas in the Pilliga without a clear idea of how Santos will deal with the large volumes of saline and contaminated water it will produce.

Coonamble farmer Anne Kennedy said, "There is still no publicly available information about what Santos plan to do with the salty water they produce. It is utterly irresponsible for this approval to be given without that plan in place, especially given the history of contamination and mismanagement of waste water in the Pilliga.

"Santos are getting approval to move contaminated water from one pond to another, and start pulling up more groundwater with no clear management plan for the salt it will bring to the surface.

The approval report, released by the Planning and Assessment Commission yesterday afternoon, says only that, "Once at the Leewood Produced Water Facility, produced water would be stored in ponds," and that a plan for how to treat the water is still being developed, and Santos will have to seek another planning approval once they have found a solution to the problem of waste water management.

A report produced for the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer last year noted that "Few suitable brine disposal options are currently available…" [1] It has previously been estimated that Santos’ proposed production of coal seam gas in the Pilliga could produce 1.3 million litres of water per day.

Wee Waa farmer Sarah Ciesiolka said, "The approval is not all good news for Santos. The Commission has changed a key condition that was recommended by the Department, with the effect that Santos must revise its groundwater modelling prior to the commencement of drilling activities and in consultation with the Office of Water."

"This is a vindication of community concerns about the inadequacy of Santos’ modelling, but the approval should not be provided while questions remain about the impact of this project on groundwater, which is the lifeblood of our communities.

"The communities of the North West have put our opposition to coal seam gas on record. We are not willing to see the government compromise our water and our livelihoods to accommodate a mining company, and we will fight this project every step of the way."

[1] Khan and Koredek. November 2013. “Coal seam gas: Produced water and solids.” UNSW School of Civil Environmental Engineering

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