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Scourges of the bush: fire risk and salt waste in agency submissions to Santos’ Narrabri coal seam gas project

The Rural Fire Service and the Environmental Protection Agency have raised serious concerns about Santos’ controversial coal seam gasfield at Narrabri, validating community fears that the gasfield will bring two of the worst scourges of the bush - salt and fire.

Eleven agencies have provided feedback so far on Santos’ “Response to Submissions” criticising the company for its continued failure to address holes and problems with the original Environmental Impact Statement.

Notably, the RFS has warned of the risk that a gasfield in the bushfire prone Pilliga forest could create. The coal seam itself may ignite, the agency warns, and gas extraction and infrastructure can also ‘increase the risk of a forest fire spreading and increase the level of danger to firefighters’.

The EPA highlighted Santos’ failure to provide any information about what will happen to hundreds of thousands of tonnes of salt waste that is likely to contain heavy metals and other contaminants.

Narrabri farmer Sally Hunter said, “The responses from these agencies expose serious fire and pollution risks of the proposed Narrabri gasfield and vindicate the fears the community has been raising.

“During peak production Santos will produce up 80 kilograms a minute of toxic salts and they have never been able to explain what they will do with all that stuff.

“We are quite relieved to learn that the EPA is demanding Santos provide answers about the fate of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated salt waste, before a decision is made about the gasfield.

Willala farmer Alistair Donaldson, who has fought bushfires in the Pilliga said, “We’ve been saying from the start that the flammable Pilliga is the wrong place for a gasfield and the thought of fighting fires in the forest alongside gas wells, pipelines and flares is a big worry.

“The more industrial activities we have out there in the forest, the more chance of ignition of bushfires and it is a potential death-trap. Santos’ gasfield will put rural volunteer firefighters and gas workers at risk and the company hasn’t even had the decency to answer the questions raised by the RFS.”

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “Narrabri Council has pointed out that it’s not just Santos who have been found wanting - the NSW Government has failed to deliver a major recommendation from the NSW Chief Scientists review.

The NSW Government hasn’t delivered the three-tiered insurance regime Professor O’Kane said was necessary to manage the risks and impacts of coal seam gas. Without that, how can the Government even complemplate letting this gasfield proceed?

“Salt and fire are scourges of the bush. As far as we’re concerned, CSG is not needed or wanted in North West New South Wales, and is certainly far too risky to undertake, uninsured, in the flammable Pilliga forest and across a recharge aquifer of the Great Artesian Basin,” she said.

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