An unprecedented 404 people have registered to have their say on the Narrabri Gas project, forcing the Independent Planning Commission to extend planned hearings into the controversial mine next week.
Public hearings on the $3.6 billion coal seam gas project will be conducted online, due to the COVID-19 crisis.
But despite opponents complaining of barriers like a computer glitch and saying they lack access to the internet, a record number of people have registered to speak on the project, according to the Independent Planning Commission.
The hearings were initially slated to be held for five days from July 20 to July 25. But in a statement issued today, the IPC said interest had been so strong their schedule had been extended to add Saturday July 25 and Saturday August 1.
The IPC said the extended schedule will ensure everyone gets to have their say on the contentious mining project.
The mine has long been one of the most controversial projects in the state, with a record 22,485 written objections to the project DA.
Sam McLean. Executive Director of the Office of the Independent Planning Commission said the technological solution had been put in place to mitigate the risks of coronavirus.
"Ideally, the Commission would be able to hold a conventional face-to-face public hearing but this has to be different in the current public health environment," he said.
He said the number one priority of the IPC was to "safely ensure broad public participation in its decision-making process."
"We have been impressed by the response from not only the local community wanting to engage in the electronic public hearing process but also from those in other parts of NSW and Australia who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to have their say on this state significant development but for the electronic format."
The hearings will be hosted from a broadcast studio in Sydney with stakeholders presenting to the Panel either by telephone or Zoom video link.
Residents without access will have the option of a studio at the Crossing Theatre in Narrabri.
Commissioners spent last week in the Narrabri region inspecting the site of the proposed mining project.
If approved the Santos project would build 850 coal seam gas wells, many of them in the Pilliga state forest.
Hearings start at 9.30am every day.