Santos boss: ‘Get over it – or join third world’

A HIGH-LEVEL Santos executive has warned Australia could turn into “a third-world country” unless the coal seam gas industry is embraced.

James Baulderstone, the vice-president of Santos’ eastern Australia operations, said people had to “get over this issue” of whether the industry should exist.

“If you want to have a gas business on the east coast, you’ve got to recognise that 87 per cent of those gas resources are held in coal seams,” he told Fairfax Media.

“It is not a matter of whether this gas will continue; it has to continue otherwise Australia turns into a third-world country.”

In the coming months, Santos will seek government approval for its proposed $2 billion coal seam gas development in the Pilliga State Forest near Narrabri.

The company claims the region’s gas reserves have the potential to supply up to 50 per cent of NSW’s gas needs and generate more than $1.6 billion in state royalties.

But opposition to the project has grown in recent months as a growing number of farmers and local residents take part in protest action.

Santos’ public image has taken a battering recently after it emerged in February waste water from a leaking storage pond had polluted an aquifer in the Pilliga.

This was followed late last month when 500 litres of toxic water spilled into a diversion drain, raising questions over the company’s claims its operations are safe.

But Mr Baulderstone blamed environmental groups for exaggerating the seriousness of the incidents, saying the “salty water” spills were only “minor”.

“These are not environmental incidents, they are simply processing issues,” he said.

Liverpool Plains farmer Phil Herbert said it was clear the company was feeling the pressure of the community’s sustained campaign against the project.

“It’s just an indication that they’re starting to get quite desperate,” he said. “You would have never heard this tone last year.

“They’re trying to move the focus of the debate away from (the project’s environmental impacts) where it is now.”

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