PANIC OVER PILLIGA
SANTOS has been given the green light for a coal seam gas exploration project in the Pilliga State Forest, near Narrabri.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt this week approved the company’s plans for further exploration in the Pilliga, subject to numerous conditions.
The work includes the drilling of 15 new wells and the reinstatement of 24 existing wells built by former operator Eastern Star Gas.
The minister’s decision allows for the clearing of up to 400 hollow-bearing trees and the removal of up to 235 Cobar greenhood orchids, listed as a vulnerable flora species.
Staff and contractors must attend an induction by an ecologist; there will be groundwater monitoring; and log book records must be kept of flora and fauna.
If the threatened Pilliga mouse, regent honeyeater and koala are found in pre-clearance surveys, no construction is to take place during their breeding season.
The decision comes after the federal Environment Department confirmed in July it had received 3800 submissions about the planned development, the majority of which opposed the project.
Environmental groups were quick to condemn the minister’s decision, which was revealed the same day the NSW government announced what was described as “the toughest CSG controls in Australia”.
Northern Inland Council for the Environment spokesman Carmel Flint said the conditions placed on the development were “weak and irresponsible”.
“Given the number of threatened plants you’re allowed to destroy is really what we would consider the reverse of the whole purpose of the federal Environment Act, which was to protect species, not to say, ‘You can go out and bulldoze them’,” Ms Flint said.
She said they were also disappointed the project had not been referred to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee.
Andrea Broughton, who worked for State Water at Gunnedah, said the Pilliga sandstone aquifer was “incredibly important”.
Santos spokesman Sam Crafter said initial construction work had started and the rehabiliation on an old well was continuing.