Narrabri SANTOS
Narrabri SANTOS

Fury over 850 CSG wells planned for NSW’s most fertile land

LOCAL farmers are spoiling for a fight with the State government over plans to dig hundreds of gas wells across NSW's most fertile countryside.

A proposed $3 billion project to drill 850 coal seam gas wells between Narrabri and Gunnedah would be a "climate crisis" according to farmers in north west NSW, who hold grave fears for the future of livestock, cropping and human drinking water.

The NSW Department of Planning last week approved the proposal after a drawn out three-year process, which means the final hurdle is sign-off from the Independent Planning Commission.

A NSW Farmers branch representing hundreds of farmers across the Liverpool Plains voted unanimously to call on its peak industry body to up the ante in its opposition to the coal seam gas project.

The Gunnedah and Tambar Springs branch of NSW Farmers has formally requested its parent body lobby the government to scrap the Narrabri coal seam gas project and extinguish 11 expired and inactive petroleum exploration licences dotted around the region.

Santos Narrabri Gas project has raised alarm among farmers over the future of livestock, cropping and human drinking water in the area. Picture: Nathan Edwards.
Santos Narrabri Gas project has raised alarm among farmers over the future of livestock, cropping and human drinking water in the area. Picture: Nathan Edwards.

Santos has claimed the project won't compromise the Great Artesian Basin - the world's largest underground freshwater tank, big enough to fill Sydney Harbour 130,000 times - but farmers maintain there is too high a risk it could deplete and irreparably contaminate the aquifer.

"What my members are saying is they can produce food and fibre without gas, but they can't do it without water," branch secretary and wheat farmer Xavier Martin said.

"The Berejiklian government is not listening so NSW Farmers has to escalate this."

Farmers see the Narrabri project as a "Trojan horse", which if approved will encourage gas miners to fire up 11 expired and largely inactive petroleum exploration licences in the state's north west from the Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains north to Moree and west to Coonamble.

The idle licences have spooked farmers across the 4.6 million hectares of land, whose farms sit above the gas fields, and have already expressed reluctance to invest in upgrading their farms.

The Coonamble branch of NSW Farmers on Thursday also asked the peak body to toughen its stance against Santos.

Farmer Xavier Martin says the Berejiklian government is not listening to NSW Farmers.
Farmer Xavier Martin says the Berejiklian government is not listening to NSW Farmers.

Fifth generation farmer Sarah Ciesiolka, who grows 70 million potatoes a year, a million kilograms of peanuts and enough wheat to make three million loaves of bread just six kilometres downstream from the Santos Narrabri gas project is worried about losing her customers.

"Our signed contracts for supply all include clauses related to contamination of the shipment and we know our supply chain partners would hold us responsible and liable for any product contamination caused by coal seam gas activities within our wider region," Ms Ciesiolka said.

"It has not been possible to insure against the impacts of loss of water or water contamination as a result of coal seam gas activities in our wider region.

"Water is the most precious asset we have, its key to everything we do, and our groundwater, and the communities and industries that rely on it should not be put at risk for any reason.

"Contamination or depletion of water resources does not respect property boundaries."

 

A demonstrator holds a placard to protest against Santos' plans for a major coal seam gas field near Narrabri. Picture: AAP
A demonstrator holds a placard to protest against Santos' plans for a major coal seam gas field near Narrabri. Picture: AAP

 

The Narrabri project has the potential to supply half the state's gas needs, lower household gas bills, speed up the shift away from coal-fired power plants and plug a predicted gas shortfall by 2024, according to the Department of Planning.

"The Narrabri Gas Project has been subject to an exhaustive assessment and consultation process over a number of years, with advice sought from some of Australia's best scientific experts," a spokeswoman from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said.

"If the NSW Farmers have concerns about the project they, like all community members and groups, are able to raise these at the upcoming public hearing which is scheduled for July 20 to 24."

The environmental impact statement for the Narrabri gas project received 23,000 submissions, of which 98 per cent opposed to the project.

The motions from the Gunnedah and Tambar Springs and Coonamble branches will be debated at the NSW Farmers annual conference on July 23.

Originally published as Fury over 850 CSG wells planned for NSW's most fertile land


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