The controversial Narrabri Gas Project has a green light to proceed with phase one planning after Federal Environment Minister Susan Ley signed off on the project on Tuesday 24th November.
Minister Ley said she is confident the conditions imposed by the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) will safeguard biodiversity in the Pilliga Forest.
“My approval has also been informed by advice from the Commonwealth Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) to ensure the ongoing protection of precious water resources, " Minister Ley said.
The $3.6 billion gas project plans to drill 80 wells across the North West region of NSW and Santos claims the project will create 200 operational jobs in regional areas.
Santos CEO Kevin Gallagher reaffirmed his company is committed to delivering 100% of the extracted gas to Australia's domestic market.
“We accept the conditions from the Commonwealth, which are very much in line with our other operations across the country,” Mr Gallagher said, "Santos is excited about the prospect of developing the Narrabri Gas Project."
In line with the four-phase approval granted by the IPC back in September 2020, the company will now embark on a 12-18 month appraisal program before construction can begin.
The IPC approval set out 134 conditions which Commissioners believe will help to mitigate any negative impacts.
More than 23,000 public objections were received by the IPC during their 15-week deliberation, with many raising issues of potential groundwater contamination.
Federal Environment Minister Susan Ley set out 3 approval conditions to protect water resources.
An early-warning system that includes ongoing bore-monitoring and modelling to identify any potential impacts on groundwater aquifers before they occur.
Binding protocols identifying corrective actions, and cease-work provisions at gas wells where a groundwater exceedance is predicted.
A robust chemical risk assessment framework to protect the environment and water resources during coal seam gas operations
Narrabri Mayor Ron Campbell welcomed the approval and said it is a historic time for Narrabri.
"The Narrabri Gas Project and the Northern NSW Inland Port (N2IP) will be the cornerstone of our economic diversification strategy that will drive unprecedented growth in existing and emerging industries in our region which will create jobs and stability for future generations," Mayor Campbell said.
Despite positivity from three tiers of government many local farmers and environmental organisations believe the risks are too high.
Nature Conservation CEO Chris Gambian said the rare and precious Pilliga forest and farms could be totally destroyed.
“The Federal Government’s approval is short-sighted and opportunistic at a time when we desperately need thoughtful leadership," Mr Gambian said.
Despite Santo's promise to deliver 100% of the gas extracted to the domestic market, no conditions from the state or federal government require them to do so.
Danica Leys, CEO of the Country Women's Association NSW, said many members are concerned about the impacts the project will have on family farms.
"We’re concerned that compliance on conditions is severely lacking," Danica Leys said," We’ve seen it in the past with mining and other extractive projects."
"These companies get the green light and off they go, there’s no looping back to ensure all of these conditions are upheld into the future. Rural communities once again are left with the impacts."
Santos has already commenced workover activities on existing wells under its current exploration tenures and is working to get various agreements in place that are required prior to the next phase of development.