NORTH West residents have issued the strongest challenge yet to Santos’s claims to hold a “social licence” to proceed with its $2 billion gas field in the Pilliga forest.
Organisers claim more than 600 people – many of them farmers – turned out at the Crossing Theatre in Narrabri on Thursday to express their opposition to the project.
The forum came after about 200 people armed with placards conducted a protest out at the Pilliga, where Santos plans to drill up to 850 wells.
Special guest John Fenton, a US rancher whose own property has been rendered virtually worthless through groundwater contamination, spoke of his fight against the industry.
The 41-year-old, who rose to prominence in the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, is touring Australia to urge farmers not to allow gas companies onto their properties.
Jeff Carolan, who has lived and farmed on his property west of Wee Waa for his entire 67 years, said the strong turnout was evidence of the momentum building against the project.
“The angst is growing and it will get a lot stronger as people get themselves organised,” he said.
But Santos Energy NSW general manager Peter Mitchley said Mr Fenton’s experiences in the US were of no relevance to the Narrabri gas project as NSW had stringent regulations and the company had different operating standards.
He also said the company was confident of its support in the community and had signed agreements with more than 40 landholders in the Narrabri area.
“Santos has always said we will only drill wells where landholders are happy to host our activities and won’t be accessing land without landholders’ consent. We also have no plans to frack in the area,” he said.
“Santos has committed the gas from the project to the NSW market, with a dedicated pipeline to transport the gas south from Narrabri. This gas is not destined for export.”
Narrabri farmer Phillip Kirkby described Mr Fenton’s story as “quite horrifying” and said his experience had resonated strongly with attendees.