22 February, 2017
Courtesy of the Guardian
A group of New South Wales farmers fear that the federal and state governments are using the South Australian blackouts to push through a controversial 850-well coal seam gas project in the north-west of the state.
The NSW government released the environmental impact statement (EIS) on Tuesday for the Narrabri coal seam gas project, weeks after Malcolm Turnbull raised the possibility of a domestic gas reserve where an exploration area could be set aside exclusively for domestic consumption.
On the same day as Santos submitted a state significant development applicationand environmental impact statement to the NSW planning authority, the prime minister declared he would consider working with the states to determine the “right incentives” to enable more gas development.
The federal industry minister, Arthur Sinodinos, has said one option might be providing funding for the states that could be used to pay farmers compensation for CSG extraction and other mining. The deputy prime minister and agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, has also raised this option.
Santos says the proposed Narrabri gas project could supply up to 50% of NSW gas needs and provide significant benefits to the region and the state more broadly.
The company committed to make the gas available to NSW and the east coast domestic market via a pipeline linking into the existing Moomba to Sydney pipeline.
While the NSW government has the planning approval right over the mining application, the federal government needs to give approval in regards to threatened species and the so-called water trigger, established by Tony Windsor with the minority Gillard government.
The water trigger or Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) allows an independent expert scientific committee (IESC) to assess the impacts of proposed coal seam gas and large coalmining developments on water resources.
Anne Kennedy, a Coonamble farmer who has been fighting the Pilliga gas project for nine years, said she feared that the federal government would use the South Australian blackouts to justify approval for the Santos CSG project.
Kennedy is also the president of the Artesian Bore Water Users Association and one of a group of farmers in the North West Alliance group that opposes the project. She said if the water in the Great Artesian Basin was ruined by coal seam gas drilling, farmers would be out of business and towns would disappear as well.
“How are my grandchildren are going to live here with without water?” she said. “This is good country, we have black soil plains. We don’t irrigate but we would not be here without ground water.
“The government is quite happy to go along with this because they have been bought and paid for and we stupid trusting people, we farmers, say ‘the good old country party, they will look after us’. Well they haven’t.”
But Max Davis is a farmer outside of Narrabri who supports the Pilliga gas project because it will create jobs in the community.
“It will ensure these towns some growth and will attract facilities, including medical facilities,” he said. “If you look at towns further west like Walgett and Bourke, they are going backwards. They rapidly are losing services.
“I would like to see some decentralisation to get industries out here so our local towns are more diversified. It’s no good having everyone governed and fed under one roof on the east coast.”
Davis says he personally knows 12 or so farmers who support the project, though many are sitting on fence. And he disputes any threat to the Great Artesian Basin and suggests the underground coalmines may be a greater threat to the water supply.
State National MP Kevin Humphries said the project was the most reviewed “on record” and regulations had been tightened through the NSW Gas Plan.
“At a time when rural communities need to diversify their economy, this is an outstanding project that I fully support, and our community assessment is that the vast majority of people want this project to proceed,” Humphries said.
“Many of the knockers are not from our area, are poorly informed and are scaremongering.”
The NSW Labor Opposition went to the last election pledging to ban coal seam gas in the Pilliga.
The environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, said the NSW government was taking the right approach in assessing gas extraction on case-by-case basis “allowing for important environmental and economic factors to be considered as appropriate”.
“As with all projects the Narrabri Gas project will be subject to the usual environmental assessment and approval processes,” he said.
Malcolm Roberts, the chief executive of Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, said NSW currently has to import 95% of its gas supply, which has an effect on cost.
Asked whether it would be at the cost to the environment, Roberts said “not at all”.
“Obviously there are people opposed to the gas industry and seek to create alarm and concern in local communities but we do also have a very rigorous regulatory process to assess environmental risk,” Roberts told the ABC.
“And if we look at Santos’ Narrabri project, for example, their environmental impact statement has over 7500 pages of data and analysis representing years of on the ground research and analysis.”
Roberts said the Australian east coast faces a supply shortfall as early as 2019.
“Unless new projects are developed quickly, customers will face higher prices and tighter supply,” he said. “This will not only mean higher energy bills for families but also more pressure on manufacturers using gas to make products such as fertilisers, glass and plastics.”
The NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said the Narrabri project would see 115 tonnes of salt per day or 42,000 tonnes per year generated in the initial stages of production and dumped at an undisclosed land fill.
He said another 1,000 tonnes per year would be irrigated onto fields or put into local waterways.
“The industry always promised to have a plan for their toxic waste but it is clear they are just going to use the environment as a dump,” he said. “We have got prime minister Turnbull rabidly backing coal seam gas now. It’s a big test for the National party. Will they join with the Greens and farmers in opposing this toxic and dangerous industry that one that risks the very future of our food bowl in NSW?”