GREAT Artesian Basin Protection Group president Simon Fagan believes pending public consultation about the Narrabri Gas Project must be put on hold until gatherings are deemed safe.
The fourth-generation Coonamble farmer said the integrity of the planning process would be compromised if it cannot proceed as it was designed to.
The Independent Planning Commission (IPC) is awaiting delivery of the planning department's recommendation about the project to begin its own assessment. The IPC will ultimately rule whether or not the project goes ahead.
Mr Fagan's call to wait has been echoed by the Lock the Gate Alliance.
Last month, NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes directed the IPC to proceed with public hearings.
But the coronavirus crisis has since escalated dramatically. At least 1553 people have written to Mr Stokes, calling on him to delay the public hearings until the health crisis has passed.
Mr Fagan said any prospect of an online hearing must be dismissed because the region's internet and even phone capacity, shaky at the best of times, has been overloaded by home schooling and people working from home.
Mullaley farmer Margaret Fleck said it was negligent and irresponsible for Mr Stokes to direct the IPC to proceed with the hearing.
"Almost 23,000 people made submissions on this project. The public is simply not going to have a fair and just hearing of objections to this gasfield if the hearing takes place during this health crisis," she said.
She too said most people who would be affected by the project were on the "wrong side of the digital divide".
"In addition, many people who will be affected are elderly and lack the necessary computer literacy to fully engage in what should be an open and transparent process," she said.
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said the group had written to Mr Stokes on March 4 asking him not to proceed with public hearings, but had received no response.
IPC commissioners met late into Tuesday discussing what to do but have not yet reached a decision, however, offered The Land a comment.
An IPC spokesman said: "The commission is aware of the significant community interest in these projects. It is important to note that the department is still finalising its whole-of-government assessment, which has not been sent to the commission for determination.
"We're committed to ensuring interested individuals and groups can have their say on issues important to them. We are also committed to ensuring these hearings are fair, open and transparent.
"Public health and safety is our first and foremost priority. We will be guided by the latest advice from the Australian Department of Health and NSW Health in determining in what format our public hearings should proceed," he said.
"These are challenging times and the commission appreciates your patience as it works through these issues."