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Release of Santos EIS for Narrabri Gas Project galvanises farming communities

Nearly three years overdue, the EIS for the highly controversial Narrabri Gas Project in the Pilliga forest in North West NSW has finally been released to the public for comment, galvanising opposition among surrounding farming communities that has been building for years. A public forum in Narrabri will hear from Santos and APA Group about the project and the associated pipeline plans at 1pm today. Concerned community will gather at the event.

The Narrabri project has been dogged by unrelenting protests, serious pollution incidents and financial losses. It is the final CSG proposal remaining in NSW after community opposition turned back other unconventional gas plans across the state. Santos are proceeding with the EIS release despite downgrading their assets to “contingent” last year, meaning there are no immediate plans to develop.

The EIS was lodged with the Department of Planning a fortnight ago but today is the first opportunity the community has had to view the detailed plans for the 850 well coal seam gas field near Narrabri.

Anne Kennedy is a farmer and grandmother from Coonamble on the western edge of the Pilliga forest. She said, “This project will drill 850 wells through the recharge area of the Great Artesian Basin, extracting water and gas from below. In its EIS, Santos fobbs off the inherent risk this brings but 22% of Australia utterly relies on this water source, thousands of livelihoods depend on free flowing artesian bores. We cannot afford to take any risks with this most precious resource.

“I’m a grandmother and a farmer and I find it shocking at my age that I’m fighting my own government to protect the natural assets we all rely on.”

Megan Kuhn, mother and grazier from Bundella on the Liverpool Plains is also at Narrabri council today, “We know that CSG in the Pilliga is a trojan horse to access vast areas of agricultural country in North West NSW. Santos has announced plans for seven major gasfields across our productive farming region. They want to replicate the QLD disaster on us but clearly lack a social licence which is necessary for them to begin.”

“Generations of rural communities have caringly protected each other through natural disasters like flood, drought and fire. The results of our neighbour-to-neighbour Gasfield Free surveys resulting in an average of 96% across 3.2 million hectares prove we are prepared to unite again to respond to this looming man made disaster called coal seam gas.”

Scott McCalman, a farmer from near Boggabri said, “Coal seam gas brings broad scale industrialisation of the landscape as companies force pipelines and infrastructure on unwilling hosts. It brings liability to landowners as our properties become literally uninsurable to its contamination risks.

"After a short term boom that benefits the few the CSG industry leaves farmers stranded, with leaking gas wells and unsaleable properties. The boom is over in Queensland and communities have been devastated as whole sectors are forced to leave due to unaffordable living costs. We don’t want that happening to our strong communities across North West NSW.”

Jeff Carolan is a cotton grower from near Wee Waa, 40 km west of Narrabri. “We’ve seen the damage of coal seam gas in our region during exploration alone. Already there has been over 20 spills or leaks of CSG water in the Pilliga. We’ve seen dry wells, sick kids, and rivers on fire in Queensland and we won’t have that here.

“We’re determined to oppose this project with everything we have left. We’ve been putting other aspects of our life on hold for years with the threat of CSG constantly hanging over our heads and we don’t intend to lose now.

“This is much bigger than us of course, and we hope that people around the country will submit their opposition to this gasfield, outlining their concerns about drilling through the Great Artesian Basin.”

The project is the only new CSG proposal in the state but the company’s intention to pursue the project is unclear, given its value was written down to zero last year and Santos announced recently that it has been spun off to a subsidiary company for poor performing assets – speculation is high that pursuit of the current EIS assessment process and the recently announced gas pipeline is simply to enable the project’s sale.

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