THE NSW government has approved eight Santos exploration coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga Forest on the proviso “strict” environmental conditions are met.
Santos won approval to drill two sets of four wells in the forest in August, with details only made public in recent days.
The company also secured approval for stage one of its water management project.
The decision has angered environmental groups, which queried how the approval could go through when Santos was being taken to court tomorrow over a 2011 spill of waste water from the nearby Bibblewindi water treatment works.
The Wildernesss Society’s Naomi Hogan said in January the NSW Office of Water recommended that no water production from coal seams be allowed until an approved water management plan was in place.
“Yet, seven months later, Santos still has no firm plans for treating the millions of litres of coal seam gas waste water the wells produce,” Ms Hogan said.
They are also concerned the construction of these new wells will result in a further loss of habitat for koalas and other threatened species in the area.
A spokesman for NSW Trade and Investment said the wells and water management project had been approved on August 16, “subject to strict environmental reporting and monitoring conditions”.
“Before Santos can produce water from these wells they are required to lodge and have approved a produced water management plan,” the spokesman said.
A Santos spokesman said the company would abide by the conditions set by the state government.
The aim was to begin drilling by the end of the year, he said, provided the new federal government ratified the consent under existing environment rules.
“It is also worth pointing out that there has been extensive groundwater modelling done that shows the proposed exploration program will have no significant impact on the groundwater source in the region,” he said.