Women take fight to Santos

A FARMING mother-of-three whose property lies in the shadow of a proposed coal seam gas field has expressed grave fears for the health of her children after the release of damning new claims from medical professionals this week.

MAKING A POINT: From left, Pat Schultz (front), Natasha Parish, Rosemary Nankivell, Megan Kuhn, Nicola Chirlian, Anne Kenendy, Cherie Robinson, Sarah Ciesiolka. Photo: Kate Ausburn

MAKING A POINT: From left, Pat Schultz (front), Natasha Parish, Rosemary Nankivell, Megan Kuhn, Nicola Chirlian, Anne Kenendy, Cherie Robinson, Sarah Ciesiolka. Photo: Kate Ausburn

Sarah Ciesiolka lives on a farm near Wee Waa, just six kilometres downstream from the proposed Santos Narrabri Gas Project, and said she was “shocked” to see Santos’ own data confirming the Fairview mine in Queensland was “spewing thousands of tonnes of pollutants into air and water”. 

The recorded emissions from the Fairview project are “normal for a CSG operation of that size”, a spokesperson for Santos said.

“As a mother, I am concerned about the health impact – not only for myself and my family, but also for the members of my community,” Ms Ciesiolka said.

As a grower of potatoes and peanuts, the Ciesiolkas rely completely on groundwater irrigation for their produce. 

Last Wednesday, Ms Ciesiolka travelled with a group of 18 other women, spanning three generations, to the NSW parliament to bring their concerns before Shadow Minister for Energy Luke Foley and to stage a “sit in” at Santos in Sydney. 

They also heard from university medical researchers about the 

pollutants and chemicals involved in coal seam gas mining, including uranium, arsenic, sulphur and benzene.

“What they told us is quite sobering,” Ms Ciesiolka said. 

“There is a risk of harm, and for that reason we should all be taking a step back.”

She was outraged that Santos and the government would risk the health of her community, and demanded to know who would be liable. 

“Our families are the ones that will be affected by this pollution,” she said.

“None of the people that are making the decisions, not one of them – their families, their children – are 

 living in these gas fields.”

She questioned the government’s commitment to undertake the required baseline testing while at the same time fast-tracking the process, and said this did not instil community confidence. 

“As mothers and grandmothers, we would like to see absolute disclosure about what chemicals are being used, what are the risks, and we want to see water data.”

For Megan Kuhn, who travelled with Ms Ciesiolka to Santos in Sydney, it is an issue that is close to her heart because her child has cerebral palsy. 

“To think other families will be exposed to potentially serious man- made risks, increasing the likelihood of birth defects and childhood diseases through this industry, is very disturbing to me.”

A spokesperson for Santos said: “Santos places the highest priority on the health and safety of its employees and the communities where it operates. Extensive studies into claims of adverse health impacts from CSG have found no basis for the claims.”

“The Narrabri Gas Project will not be approved if it doesn’t meet the government’s stringent requirements,” she said. 

Associate Professor of Public Health Dr Melissa Haswell of the Doctors for the Environment Australia said it was important for proper studies to be carried out before launching new gas mining projects. 

“While there are many uncertainties in relation to unconventional gas mining, we have enough information on the potential health risks to be very concerned,” Dr Haswell said.

Doctors for the Environment Australia suggested CSG posed “significant threats to public health” and the current level of assessment and monitoring of the potential risks was “inadequate”.

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