PROTESTERS have escalated their campaign against Santos’ coal seam gas exploration activities in the Pilliga forest.
A group of 12 people occupied a construction site at the forest yesterday in a bid to halt work on a waste water pipeline.
The occupation ran concurrently with a sit-in conducted by the Knitting Nanas Against Coal Seam Gas outside Santos’ offices in Narrabri.
The protests came a day after more than 20 residents picketed a road leading to one of the company’s drill rigs in the forest.
Pat Schultz, a spokesman for the group of concerned residents, said the protesters felt they had little choice but to take matters into their own hands.
“The community of north-west NSW is facing an enormous threat: the invasion of coal seam gas and the industrialisation of our communities, our water and farmlands,” he said.
“We feel we have been backed into a corner by governments refusing to listen to us or to consider the impacts of the potential loss of our groundwater if this gas field is developed.
“Santos have claimed they will not go where they are not welcome and concerned rural communities are clearly showing they have no social licence to operate here.”
Santos acquired the drill sites from Eastern Star Gas in 2011 and has received permission from the federal government to carry out exploration activities.
A Santos spokeswoman said the protest had halted work “for a period of time” as the company did not want to jeopardise the safety of either its workers or the community.
“Santos has appropriate access agreements in place and has received all necessary regulatory approvals to carry out this work,” she said.
“While we acknowledge and respect the right of individuals to lawfully and safely protest, we are committed to carrying out this work in a safe and timely manner.
“While we have support locally for our activities, we continue to engage with the community to build additional support and understanding of our work and address any concerns they may have.”
Bundella grazier Megan Kuhn said residents would not stand by as their livelihoods were threatened by a “fully-blown industrial gas field”.
“That’s not something that we want to happen in this area,” she said. “We have been proud to be able to produce for other families in Australia and now to be wondering whether we can maintain that is a very big question.
“When it is dry like now, we rely on underground water as our dams recede and if they either ruin the water by making it toxic or remove the water by pumping the aquifer dry, our business is completely under threat.”