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Byron Shire
March 9, 2021

‘Critical information’ missing from Santos’ Pilliga proposal

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Santos has failed to reveal crucial aspects of its Narrabri coal seam gas scheme in its response to the record number of 23,000 submissions generated by its environmental impact statement for the controversial project, the Wilderness Society has said after Santos’s response was made public.

‘Santos has still not revealed where it will drill its 850 wells and where the hundreds of kilometres of pipes and roads will go so it’s impossible to say exactly how bad the impacts will be,’ said Wilderness Society Newcastle Campaign Manager Naomi Hodgson.

‘The Rural Fire Service highlighted this as a problem in its submission and Santos has still not revealed this information. Santos has not yet prepared a bushfire management plan or a risk management plan. Santos still has no plan on how to deal with the hundreds of thousands  of tonnes of toxic salt the project will create apart from saying there are garbage dumps that can ‘receive general solid waste’. The NSW Government can not approve the Narrabri coal seam gas scheme when such critical information is missing.

‘Santos’s approach is like saying it wants to bulldoze a freeway through a city but refusing to say where the route will go and which buildings it wants to knock down. But in the Pilliga the many endangered species don’t get any compensation, they just lose their only home.

‘The Pilliga is the only home for the Pilliga mouse, the national stronghold for the south-eastern long-eared microbat, the NSW stronghold for the barking owl, and the most important home for koalas and the black-striped wallaby in inland NSW.

‘Ecologist David Milledge highlighted concerns over Santos’s fauna surveys in a submission by the North-West Alliance yet no new fauna surveys have been conducted. A 10-day survey by Landmark Ecological Services led by Milledge found more than twice the animals in the project area than Santos’s consultants did in a four-year period.[1]

‘The Narrabri coal seam gas scheme will decimate the project area in the Pilliga Forest, with roads and gas pipelines ripped through NSW’s most important inland forest connecting hundreds of gas wells. Tiny woodland endangered animals such as the Pilliga mouse and eastern pygmy possum will have to play British bulldog across a heavily cleared landscape with increasing numbers of trucks, foxes, feral cats, dogs and pigs.

‘The Pilliga Forest is the largest temperate forest left in eastern Australia, the most important wildlife refuge for many endangered and threatened animals. Santos plans to drill in the most fertile part of the forest, the Pilliga Outwash zone, where there are better soils, higher productivity and more animals. Santos’s operations have already silted up watercourses through the Pilliga and the company wants to extract 37 billion litres of groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin below.

‘It’s little wonder why there is such strong community opposition from farmers, Traditional Owners, townspeople and environmentalists when a project will have such a major impact and Santos still refuses to reveal critical information. An overwhelming 96 per cent of landholders representing 3.2 million hectares of land that Santos holds leases over have declared themselves gasfield free.

‘Santos also has a long tragic history of failure in the Pilliga, with at least 20 toxic coal seam gas waste-water spills, including the contamination of an aquifer with uranium and other toxic heavy metals. These spills and leaks were from just 56 exploration wells but now Santos wants to drill 850 coal seam gas wells through an important recharge zone for the Great Artesian Basin, the most important water source for Australia’s parched interior.

‘Santos says in its response to submissions that ‘the project would also incorporate a range of monitoring systems that would enable quick detection and rectification in the unlikely event of a leak or spill,’ which is laughable in light of Santos’s history of environmental damage in the Pilliga.

‘The forest contains 900 native plant species, 240 bird species and more than 100 animal species, and many are threatened or endangered. In the project area alone, there are 23 nationally listed threatened species and 38 state-listed threatened species. It’s the Noah’s Ark of inland NSW.

‘Loss of hollow-bearing trees will have a major impact on these threatened species, yet Santos can’t say how many hollow-bearing trees will be lost because it has not mapped them or even sited where the wells, roads, pipelines and associated clearing will go.

‘Tree hollows are critically important for many of the Pilliga’s native animals, including the eastern pygmy possum, the squirrel glider, the barking owl, the pale-headed snake and two microbats, the south-eastern long-eared bat and the yellow-bellied sheath-tailed bat.

‘It’s impossible to predict the impact of the gas field on native animals when Santos still refuses to disclose the location of the 850 gas wells and the hundreds of kilometres of pipelines and roads.’


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