A court judgement ruling in favour of gas giant Santos sets a dangerous precedent for coal seam gas and mine projects across the state, according to a local community group challenging the decision.
People for the Plains are appealing the Land and Environment Court's decision to uphold approval fpr the company's CSG wastewater facility in the Pilliga forest, handed down on August 1.
People for the Plains spokeswoman Sally Hunter said the appeal was not a move they took lightly, but recent legal advice and the backing of the community had the group feeling confident.
There was also concern about the precedent the ruling set – and conversely, how that precedent would be changed if the challenge was successful.
"With so many approvals going on at the moment for mines and other resource projects, we thought it was setting a dangerous precedent," Ms Hunter said.
"If we can demonstrate this project wasn't given enough scrutiny, then hopefully in the future project will be examined more closely by the government."
People for the Plains argued the company’s Leewood wastewater facility, which was assessed as a petroleum exploration project, should be treated by as an independent development that would have to go on public exhibition.
The group is being represented by public interest environmental lawyers Environmental Defenders Office NSW.
Principal solicitor Sue Higginson said the laws relating to CSG exploration and infrastructure were complex.
"This is where planning law and mining law intersect," Ms Higginson said.
"It is really important that the proper legal procedures are followed for this development, as it will set a precedent for exploration-related projects in the future.
“Our client will argue before the Court of Appeal that the legal framework for CSG exploration does not – and was never intended to – exempt industrial scale, long-term projects such as the Leewood facility from requiring development consent.”
Ms Higginson said if a non-CSG developer wanted to construct a facility like Leewood, they would be required to submit an Environmental Impact Statement, which would be placed on public exhibition.
The appeal comes as the Victorian government announces plans to permanently ban exploration and development of unconventional gas, along with Labor winning power in the Northern Territory election on the back of its promise to implement a similar moratorium.
Santos said it welcomed the court’s original ruling to dismiss the case.
“The Leewood Phase 2 was approved following a rigorous and detailed assessment process,” a Santos spokeswoman said.
“The environmental assessment was publicly exhibited and objectors made submissions as part of this process.”
“This reverse osmosis plant is similar to those used across the world and will be used to treat salty ground water produced by Santos’ exploration and appraisal operations to a very high standard so it can be used for irrigation and operational activities.”
The appeal is set down for first mention on Wednesday, October 26. People for the Plains have set up a crowdfunding page to support the appeal.