News Environment Minister Sussan Ley ‘satisfied’ Santos can proceed with Narrabri gas project

Environment Minister Sussan Ley ‘satisfied’ Santos can proceed with Narrabri gas project

Anti-coal seam gas signs have decorated the north-west region for years, but the Santos project can begin in 2021. Photo: ABC News
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The controversial Narrabri coal seam gas project in north-west New South Wales, touted to meet half the state’s gas needs, has cleared its final hurdle and work will commence in 2021.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley on Tuesday gave her sign-off to the $3.6 billon proposal by energy company Santos, subject to a number of conditions to protect regional biodiversity, groundwater and local communities.

Ms Ley said she was “satisfied that the conditions and the staged nature of work in the area will safeguard the biodiversity of the Pilliga Forest”.

“My approval has also been informed by advice from the Commonwealth Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development to ensure the ongoing protection of precious water resources,” Ms Ley said.

The proposal for 850 coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga region has been a divisive topic for local communities with key concerns around potential groundwater and cultural impacts.

Ten years of debate

After a decade-long controversial debate the project was given conditional approval by the NSW Independent Planning Commission in September including a four-phase rollout.

Santos said it had all the assurances it needs to develop the project and will begin on the first phase in the new year.

This phase involves a 12- to 18-month appraisal drilling program, which will include expanding the water monitoring network.

Under the Santos plan, more than 850 wells will be drilled in the region, mainly in the Pilliga forest. Photo: ABC News

“In accordance with the laws of NSW, the project has been through a rigorous assessment process based on the best available science, which found that the project is in the public interest and can be developed safely and sustainably,” a spokesperson for Santos said.

“The laws of the land should be respected by all parts of society.”

Mayor welcomes ‘influx of industry’

Narrabri Shire Mayor Ron Campbell welcomed the news.

“What it does for us as a community is it safeguards us,” Cr Campbell said.

“Our northern NSW inland port, it is connected to what will be the inland rail by 2025.

“We envisage that we may have up to 1500 new jobs off the back of that port and the success of that project is all reliant on reasonably priced, secure energy to our site which Santos are giving us.

“We envisage quite an influx of industry to Narrabri which will set us up … for generations to come through the Inland Rail and Northern NSW Inland Port.

“Country towns are dying right across Australia, when these opportunities arrive you don’t just go ‘we’ll say no’, let’s look into it and that’s what we did as a community.”