The CSG debate has divided the Narrabri community, here's what one advocate says about it.

I was one of the people invited to attend the filming of the SBS Insight TV program at the Narrabri RSL Club on Wednesday May 23 rd, and the subsequent broadcast on Tuesday May 29 th . I was somewhat reluctant to go because I felt that this would not be an appropriate forum for advancing the understanding of the true facts and possible benefits of the Narrabri Gas Project to the local community.

The audience was carefully “split” into anti-Coal Seam Gas people on the right and the others, including myself, on the left. In a not unexpected way, the presenter Jenny Brockie concentrated on the emotional issues raised by the activists and a lot of attention was focussed on people from the Coonamble district who were strident in their objections to the Narrabri Gas Project and the associated APA pipeline that may pass through their area.

The pre-recorded program took approximately two and a half hours to film, and resulted in some 45 minutes of air time. I was not invited to speak and chose to sit quietly in my allotted seat.

I thought the representative of Santos, Mr David Banks responded calmly and carefully to the often exaggerated claims made by the activists, despite their attempts to interject.

Like a lot of people, when the Narrabri Gas Project was first announced I was concerned about the potential impacts on water resources, particularly the Namoi Alluvium and the recharge areas for the Great Artesian Basin. Over recent years I have come to understand the risks more fully and believe the level of risk to our water resources from the proposed development of up to 850 Coal Seam Gas wells in the Pilliga is manageable.

My wife and I attended one of the first meetings of the group that became “The People for the Plains”.

The meeting was promoted as a forum for sharing information on the Gas Project. However, it became obvious that this was not the real objective, but rather a group that was determined to stop the Narrabri Gas Project at any cost, and by any means. This objective continues today as represented by an email I received on May 22 nd , 2018 from “Lock The Gate Alliance”: 

“Dear Jack, 

We have an exciting plan to stop the Narrabri CSG gasfield in its tracks and protect the North West from coal seam gas, but we need your help to make it work.

On Sunday 24 June, we’re going to knock on the door of every household in the town of Narrabri and find out how the people feel about coal seam gas.”

In our business as Irrigation Farmers we rely completely on the access we have to Groundwater resources of the Namoi Valley Alluvium. For many years I and others fought very hard to protect those resources and our entitlements to access them in the face of dramatic cut backs to entitlements.

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Like a lot of other irrigators in this Valley, we lost a large share of our entitlements, with very little or no compensation. I know the value of Groundwater and have a good knowledge of the resource in this Valley.

As with a number of protestors at the SBS Insight filming, I can claim a long heritage in the Coonamble area. There are three generations of my family buried in the Coonamble Cemetery, including my parents, grandparents and great grandparents. I also have my great-great grandparents buried in a field at Bugaldi on the edge of the Pilliga. My earliest forebears are buried near Dandry Creek in the southern Pilliga. These early settlers arrived in Australia in 1822 as convicts and upon their release moved to the Pilliga in 1840 and grazed livestock before it became the Pilliga Scrub.

I don’t pretend that our family has the same connection to the land as the Indigenous people have after maybe 60,000 years of continuous occupation of this land. Never-the-less I can legitimately claim an association with this place extending back nearly 180 years and now eight generations of family living in this region.

When we were growing up at Carinda, North-West of Coonamble, we had no electricity until I was a teenager in the mid-1960’s. We did not have air conditioning, or gas or electric stoves or ovens, we had to chop wood for cooking. A ‘cool” drink came from a water bag hanging under the back verandah. We relied on windmills to pump water from ground tanks, although supply was often limited by drought and low rainfall. I don’t particularly want to return to that era, but some people would have us believe that was better than what we have now. I don’t think so.

It was not until 1969 that my father could afford to install a bore which provided flowing water from the Great Artesian Basin. This bore was capped and piped from Day 1. I know the value of this water and I know what a difference it makes to landholders and communities across this dry continent. It doesn’t mean that the Narrabri Gas Project is a threat to the waters of the Great Artesian Basin. The much bigger threat may be the integrity of Artesian bores/wells that have been in place for maybe more than 100 years across the Great Artesian Basin and “sunk” to provide water to those landholders and communities. What is the integrity and condition of all those bores?

The potential impacts of the Narrabri Gas Project on the recharge to the Great Artesian Basin or the Alluvial Aquifers of the Namoi Valley are quite small. People might take the opportunity to access the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) website and read the results of Independent Research, including the paper “Uncertainty analysis of CSG-induced GAB flux and water balance changes in the Narrabri Gas Project area”. Also read the Water Research Fact Sheet: “Potential impacts of coal seam gas developments on water flows to the Great Artesian Basin.”

GISERA is an independent Research organisation that has been established in Queensland for some six or seven years and started to conduct Research in New South Wales in 2016. GISERA is funded in New South Wales by the Commonwealth (25%) and State (25%) Governments, CSIRO (25%) and the Gas Industry (25%). It is an Independent Research organisation that we can rely upon to deliver sound Research on key issues of concern to our community.

I am a member of the GISERA Regional Research Advisory Committee (RRAC). I believe very strongly that if I am to have influence over the direction of Research that aims to answer legitimate concerns of the broader community, then I would like to be involved. People could take the time to read about the members of the News South Wales GISERA RRAC. I am privileged to sit with prominent people when we consider Projects proposed for Research. The top priority for Research has always been related to impacts on water resources!

It is unlikely that we as a community can get absolute assurances from anyone about the Narrabri Gas Project or any activity that we participate in whether for work, business or leisure that is going to be completely without risk. We are always assessing the level of risk we take and have to make judgements about whether that level of risk is acceptable or not. All of us do this every day as we go about our normal lives. Living is a “risky” business! Farming is a risky business. We consider ourselves as “Risk Managers”. That is our job and the nature of Agriculture as it has always been.

In September, 2014 the Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane released the “Final Report – Independent Review of Coal Seam Gas Activities in NSW”. In the Executive Summary, Professor O’Kane wrote:

“In preparing these reports, the Review drew on information from a large number of experts from around the world in a range of fields. It also consulted extensively with community groups, industry and government agencies.

Having considered all the information from these sources and noting the rapid evolution of technological developments applicable to CSG from a wide range of disciplines, the Review concluded that the technical challenges and risks posed by the CSG Industry can in general be managed through (my emphasis):

  • Careful designation of areas appropriate in geological and land-use terms for CSG extraction
  • High standards of engineering and professionalism in CSG companies
  • Creation of a State Whole-of-Environment Data Repository so that data from CSG Industry operations can be interrogated as needed and in the context of the wider environment
  • Comprehensive monitoring of CSG operations with ongoing automatic scrutiny of the resulting data
  • A well trained and certified workforce, and
  • Application of new technological developments as they become available

All of this needs to take place within a clear, revised, legislative framework which is supported by an effective and transparent reporting and compliance regime and by drawing on appropriate expert advice.”

This Report has been followed by more than three and a half years of investigations, including the release of the SANTOS Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), review of the EIS by NSW Department of Planning and Environment, the lodgement of submissions and SANTOS response to submissions.

There is a robust process in place for the assessment of the proposed Narrabri Gas Project. There are several steps in this process still to be completed before a final determination is made. This, I believe, is appropriate and is going to take some time.

It would be good if this process was allowed to follow its course.

Meanwhile, the activists continue to agitate to have the Project stopped.

It is interesting that one of the main objections raised by the activists is their objection to the extraction of fossil fuels. We as a farming family are heavily reliant on fossil fuels to supply the energy required for the production of Food and Fibre on our farm. This will continue to be the case for a considerable time to come. We rely very heavily on Diesel fuel to operate our pumps, tractors, harvesters and motor vehicles. This fuel is shipped to Australia from overseas suppliers. I am told there is maybe 14 days of supply available in Australia at any one time. We are very vulnerable to interruption to those supply lines and this is a major risk for our business.

We do not have access to electricity from the “Grid” to replace our use of Diesel, because no improvements in the “Grid” capacity has occurred in the 34 years we have farmed south-east of Narrabri. Even if alternative sources of “sustainable” energy were available, we cannot access it.

Solar or wind energy is not going to provide a source of energy for us in the foreseeable future. We have a number of Solar installations on our farm, however these are relatively small scale. If we were to convert to our own Solar or Wind generated energy we would not be able to export the surplus generated at times when not required for pumping. These sources of energy are unlikely to provide a viable source of energy until there are major upgrades to the “Grid”. This is unlikely to happen for a very long time.

If the Narrabri Gas Project were to receive approval, there is a possibility that we could source some of our energy requirements from Compressed or Liquefied Natural Gas (CNG or LNG). This would reduce the risk to us and to agriculture in our region from threats to the supply of Diesel fuel. In addition to the potential supply of Natural Gas for energy supplies to farms like ours, there is also the opportunity to provide an alternative source of energy for other sectors of our local economy, including industrial uses and for processing entities in the Oilseeds and Cotton Ginning sectors of our local economy.

It is unfortunate that a lot of effort has been applied to stopping the Narrabri Gas Project, whilst little effort has been applied to consideration of the opportunities for building a diverse local economy around energy supplies and the proposed Inland Rail Project.

In addition, if the Narrabri Gas Project gains approval, the Community Benefit Fund, could provide funding of up to $120 million for Projects in our Regional Community. It is an important opportunity for our local Community to benefit in a direct way from the proposed Narrabri Gas Project.

I am very disappointed that we continue to experience division and outright aggression from the activists across our region. I would have hoped that as the process for development of a potential new industry in our area has progressed that there would have been recognition of the steps being taken to ensure the integrity of our water supplies and environment. Sadly, it appears that this is not going to change anytime soon.

I was very impressed with an Editorial carried in The Courier on October 7 th , 2014. At the time I privately expressed the view that the author had written what I would like to have written. The views expressed in that Editorial are very similar to mine and I commend the author for writing them. In the three and a half years since that Editorial my views have been strengthened.

I do believe that if the Narrabri Gas Project is approved, there will without doubt be very stringent controls imposed on the Project. I also believe that there could be tremendous benefits flow to our local community if the Project does gain approval and proceeds.

I am a member of the following Committees:

Narrabri Gas Project Community Consultative Committee

GISERA Regional Research Advisory Committee

Maules Creek Coal Mine Community Consultative Committee

(All these positions are voluntary. I do not receive any direct financial benefit from the Narrabri Gas

Project or its proponent)

Jack Warnock