Narrabri Gas Project proponent Santos has revealed plans to turn the salt by-product of the $3.6 billion coal seam gas scheme into baking soda.
With the controversial mine just weeks away from going before the Independent Planning Commission (IPC), Santos announced they had signed a memorandum of understanding with an American firm to convert the waste by-product into sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda.
CSG mining typically produces a vast amount of salt which has to be disposed of, potentially creating a major environmental headache. Narrabri's 850 coal seam wells would produce about 33,600 tonnes of salt per year.
Santos Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Gallagher said the company had been working with US firm Natural Soda for 12 months to create a commercially-viable model for creating a sodium bicarbonate industry for Narrabri.
"The salt removed from the water is a natural product and, if our concept study is successful, could be converted into valuable sodium bicarbonate," he said.
"That's a win-win. It creates a new industry, more jobs, it's good for the environment and good for farming."
The water extracted from the ground through the gas mining process is treated to a "very high standard that is suitable for irrigation, stock watering and other purposes" after the salt has been removed, he said.
"However, if things don't work out as we hope, the water will still be able to be used for irrigation and the salt removed from the water will be disposed of in accordance with all waste laws."
He said the agreement is a commitment from both Santos and US firm Natural Soda to complete a concept study that will inform a final investment decision to produce sodium bicarbonate in Narrabri.
Australia currently imports baking soda, which is used in cooking, pharmaceuticals, swimming pool chemicals, industrial chemicals and in animal feed.
Colorado-based company Natural Soda is the second-largest producer of sodium bicarbonate in the US. It currently imports the product to Australia.
Natural Soda President Kirk Daehling said Narrabri salt "appears to be very similar" to their facility's feed stock.
Local farmers are meanwhile preparing to have their say on the controversial scheme, which many local landholders fear will threaten local groundwater supply.
The hearings will be held online or over the phone during the COVID-19 crisis.
The NSW Farmers Association will host a webinar on Tuesday July 7 to help landholders navigate the online system.
Chair of Narrabri's branch of NSW Farmers David Scilley, who doesn't oppose the project, said he will probably be putting in his five cents about how he thinks it can be the best mine for the region.
He said it will be difficult enough to get his head around the technology.
But his property only gets a single bar of phone reception, which is going to make it even trickier.
Commissioners visited the site of the proposed project on Monday July 6.