Opponents of Santos CSG plans vow to fight on if $2b venture approved

Local resident Tony Pickard near a Santos CSG well.
Local resident Tony Pickard near a Santos CSG well.

Opponents of Santos’s Narrabri Gas Project have vowed to continue protesting against the planned $2 billion coal-seam gas field even if the government gives approval as expected for the 850-well operation.

The state’s Planning Assessment Commission held its first public meeting in Narrabri on Thursday to gauge local input on plans by Santos to drill exploration wells at the Bibblewindi and Dewhurst sites. The company is expected to lodge its environmental impact statement for the full project within weeks.

Sarah Ciesiolka, a potato and pea farmer located about 6 kilometres from the proposed wells, said the dozens joining her in making submissions opposed to the CSG project “were just the tip of the iceberg”.

“We are the ones who will have to bear the brunt of this industry,” Ms Ciesiolka said, unlike company executives, politicians or bureaucrats making the decision. “We rely completely on groundwater.”

Santos and the NSW government say the drilling will be monitored carefully to ensure the risk to aquifers is minimised. Governments at state and federal level have said NSW may face a gas shortage if more reserves aren’t tapped.

Opponents, including some speaking at the Narrabri meeting, said gas prices were being driven higher because Santos and other developers had created export markets for their gas that had forced domestic prices to rise to international levels.

Fairfax Media sought comment from Santos.

Santos officials were in attendance but did not make submissions, Ms Ciesiolka and others said.

Kate Schwager, from nearby Wee Waa, travelled about 5000 kilometres over the past week to visit Santos’s and other CSG operations in Queensland.

Ms Schwager told Thursday’s gathering that Narrabri would face the same industrialisation of the farmland with criss-crossed pipelines and power lines around Roma and other places that she had visited.

“This is what’s happening there and we don’t want that to happen here,” Ms Schwager said.

Naomi Hogan, a campaign manager with The Wilderness Society who also spoke at the meeting, said locals were concerned available air pollution data did not show peaks – only averages – and the company had yet to complete cost-benefit or health impact studies as required.

Some 95 per cent of farmers within the 3 million-hectare region around the gas fields were opposed to the planned CSG operation.

Opponents “made it quite clear that by presenting here today, the community maintained its ‘merit appeal rights’”, Ms Hogan said. Legal options remained open if the gas field gets approved, she said.

This story Opponents of Santos CSG plans vow to fight on if $2b venture approved first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.