A Coonabarabran mother of three yesterday single-handedly stopped bulldozers in the Pilliga forest in northwest New South Wales where gas giant Santos has begun work for its latest round of coal seam gas exploratory drilling.
Santos’ exploratory drilling program earlier this year was delayed by repeated protests by farmers who rely on groundwater for their livelihood. Santos began clearing work for its latest round of exploration yesterday.
Nicole Hunter attached herself to a bulldozer to stop Santos clearing a patch of the forest for a new CSG drill pad. She is being supported by a group of Coonabarabran locals.
Mrs Hunter’s husband comes from a Gulargambone farming family, but the couple recently moved to Coonabarabran to raise their children.
She said, ‘
We want to raise our children on a local farm and settle here for life. We love this area, and don’t want to see it industrialised. We want to preserve the character of our town and region. We don’t want to see our region industrialised and our towns become boom-bust mining towns.
‘Our whole focus as a couple is our kid’s future in the bush. We’re devastated that our kids could potentially suffer the same health impacts as children in Queensland.
‘I’m afraid to do this, but it’s worth getting arrested to defend what we’ve got here.’
Narrabri business owner Rohan Boehm was one of the people at the protest supporting Mrs Hunter.
‘It’s not right that people like Mrs Hunter should be wedged into a situation where they need to take personal risk like this to protect their community and their family. Residents of Narrabri and beyond are very concerned about the negative health and water impacts of coal seam gas fields in the region.’
In July, the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) approved Santos’ application to expand its exploration, despite an earlier incident that saw an overflow of its wastewater ponds poisoning tracts of the unique woodland, home to the endangered Pilliga mouse.
More than 40 presentations from local community members had called on the in PAC to reject drilling program.
Last month, the NSW Chief Scientist recommended an overhaul of coal seam gas laws in NSW. Her recommendations are yet to be implemented.
Mr Boehm questioned why the state government was ‘dragging its feet and letting Santos go ahead with this project? We need them to act to stop it. We won’t stand for it: Santos are not welcome here.’