ENVIRONMENTALISTS have released a shocking map that claims to show the true extent of Santos’s plans to industrialise the Pilliga forest with its coal seam gas operations.
The artist’s impression, based on the company’s stated intention to drill up to 850 wells, has been met with horror by those concerned at the project’s impact on the area.
Titled “Is this what Narrabri shire residents should be expecting?”, the map challenges Santos to come clean on what the gas field will look like should it proceed.
Produced by a graphic artist on behalf of anti-coal seam gas groups, the positioning of the wells around the forest mimics the spacing of established sites in Queensland.
Protest activity in the Pilliga has intensified in the past week as an increasing number of farmers, residents and conservationists express their opposition to the project.
Santos has cleared large swathes of the forest to drill exploration wells to gauge the site’s reserves, which it estimates could eventually provide half the state’s gas needs.
David Quince, a Tambar Springs farmer and Gunnedah councillor vehemently opposed to the project, said he was sickened when he saw the map.
“I think the people in the town of Narrabri itself will surely be alarmed when they see this great gas field will only be about 6km from the town border,” he said.
“You don’t have to be a hydrologist to work out that this is going to impact on Narrabri’s underground water aquifers.”
But a Santos spokeswoman told The Leader that “in short, the map is not accurate”, saying it grossly overestimated the project’s “footprint”.
“We have been very clear about the fact the proposed Narrabri Gas Project will involve the construction of up to 850 production wells,” she said.
“Our current plans would be for those wells to be made up of 425 well sets, so two wells per site.
“We estimate the total footprint of the wells and associated infrastructure would be about 900ha, or less than 1 per cent of the total project area.”
The spokeswoman also said not all of the 850 wells would be drilled, or put into production, at once.
“The wells will be drilled over time and the sites progressively rehabilitated as they are decommissioned to minimise potential disturbance to landholders and the community,” she said.
Namoi Water executive officer Jon-Maree Baker said the impact of coal seam gas extraction on both water and native vegetation was still poorly understood.
“When you have it in a map like this, you can start to understand that you need to have the uncertainties and the risks fully addressed because it's a big industrialisation, it’s changing the landscape,” she said.