THE NSW government has received almost 23,000 submissions on the Santos Narrabri Gas Project, including at least 18,000 objections.
It’s the largest number of submissions the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) has ever received on a development application.
The coal seam gas development, which was on public display for an extended period of 90 days, attracted 500 submissions from the local area, 5000 submissions from interstate and almost 200 from overseas.
DPE resources assessments director Mike Young said the large number of submissions reflected the high-level of public interest in coal seam gas in general, and in this project.
“Most of the public submissions objected to the project – however, we did receive around 300 submissions in support and most of these were from the Narrabri area,” Mr Young said.
“There are 10 submissions from NSW government agencies and four from local councils in the region including the Environment Protection Authority, Department of Primary Industries, Office of Environment and Heritage, Division of Resources and Geoscience and Narrabri, Gunnedah, Warrumbungle and Gilgandra Shire Councils.
“None of the agencies or local councils objected to the proposal, but they highlighted a range of issues that should be given further consideration before any decision is made.
“There were also around 100 submissions from a range of environmental, community, farming, Aboriginal and business groups.”
Mr Young said many of the 18,000 objections were form submissions, which are submissions based on a standard template that raise identical or nearly identical issues.
Submissions were received from groups including the Nature Conservation Council, Lock the Gate, People for the Plains, Knitting Nannas Against Gas, North West Alliance, Namoi Water, Artesian Bore Water Users Association, Cotton Australia, Narrabri Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Narrabri and District Chamber of Commerce.
“At this stage, we can see the main issues raised by the community include impacts on groundwater and agriculture, health risks related to air emissions and water pollution, the conservation values of the Pilliga Forest, management of waste products such as salt, and lighting impacts on the Siding Springs Observatory,” Mr Young said.
“Objections highlighted opposition to coal seam gas and fossil fuels more generally, including concerns about climate change and the need for society to rely more on renewable sources of energy.
“We will also be meeting with key stakeholders in the coming weeks to discuss issues raised in more detail, including Narrabri Shire Council.
“All submissions and any additional issues will be considered more thoroughly as we continue with the assessment.”
Santos is now required to respond to submissions, called a Response to Submissions (RtS). Once the RtS is received by the Department it will be published on the Major Projects website.
The Department will then undertake a thorough assessment of the merits of the project in consultation with key government agencies and independent experts, including the Environmental Impact Statement, all submissions and community feedback, and the RtS.
The final decision on the merits of the project will be made by the independent Planning Assessment Commission.
Submissions will be published on the Major Projects website shortly.
‘Overwhelmed by support’
Sarah Ciesiolka, whose farm is near the proposed gasfield said her and others against the development were overwhelmed by how many people from around the state have supported their efforts to prevent the Pilliga forest from “being turned over to an industrial gasfield”.
“This is a mandate that the NSW government cannot ignore: they must reject this unacceptable gasfield,” Ms Ciesiolka said.
Coonamble farmer Anne Kennedy said she was not surprised so many people made their objects clear.
“Experts have reviewed Santos’ Environmental Impact Statement and found that this project presents profound risk to the recharge of the Great Artesian Basin,” Ms Kennedy said.
“The Pilliga Sandstone is effectively the headwater of the aquifer we rely on for our existence and Santos want to drill straight through it and depressure the aquifers below it. It’s not on.”
Lock the Gate spokeswoman Megan Kuhn said the unprecedented response “must surely be ringing the government’s alarm bells”.
“The NSW Government will ignore this movement at its peril,” Ms Kuhn said.
“Over 100 communities in the area and around the region have declared themselves gasfield free and people far and wide have now also swarmed to support us and what’s at stake by this proposal.”