News - 09 October 2019

The Fight for the Pilliga

With the next step of the approval process on the horizon for Santos’s coal seam gas project, it’s again time to rally support in opposition. Together we must protect the livelihoods of the North West NSW community and ensure the remarkable Pilliga forest remains intact.

Image: Jarra Joseph-McGrath

Thanks to community opposition, the massive Narrabri coal seam gasfield proposed for the Pilliga forest is years behind schedule. We’ve been backing the local farmers, Traditional Owners and the wider community, in their fight to prevent Santos from establishing up to 850 drill sites to extract coal seam gas, a planet-warming fossil fuel. 

Not only would this project carve up the half a million hectares of intact temperate eucalypt Pilliga forest, but it could contaminate or depressurise the Great Artesian Basin, the ancient groundwater system relied upon by the people and ecosystems of inland Australia.

Pilliga forest. Image: Hugh Nicholson

Thanks to the perseverance of the local communities, the project does not have approval and is still being assessed by the NSW government. In 2017 Santos submitted its application for the gasfield and a record-breaking, close to 23,000 people lodged formal objections. 

But the fight isn’t over. The next step in the assessment process will be the referral of the project to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC). 

To build awareness ahead of this critical process, we are hosting a weekend gathering at the beautiful Pilliga Pottery venue, from 18 - 20 October. A combination of sightseeing, planning, workshop, and celebration  – it will be an unforgettable gathering on Gamilaraay country.   

Unfortunately, we don’t yet know when the IPC will be called. It could be anytime between November of this year and into 2020. The IPC is likely to call for another round of submissions and to host a public event. Supporters from anywhere in Australia can lodge an objection; everyone will be invited to do so. 

The IPC public event is likely to be held near the Pilliga forest, in Narrabri. We are aiming for a huge and historic mobilisation on this occasion and will invite every concerned person, from near and far to come along. We will also ensure that expert presentations regarding the issues with the gasfield highlight the many valid reasons for it to be rejected. 

Image: Naomi Crystal Hodgson

Santos needs to address serious gaps with its application before the assessment can proceed. So far it has failed to address issues that government departments and independent experts have raised regarding the safe disposal of over 500,000 tonnes of contaminated salts waste, groundwater monitoring and impact assessment, toxic air emissions, bushfire risk and insurance in the case of environmental harm. 

This 850-well gasfield is, by land area, the largest project ever considered in the history of NSW. At 95,000 hectares, this industrial gasfield would decimate huge swathes of the precious Pilliga forest – the largest temperate woodland in eastern Australia. 

And amidst unprecedented drought conditions, it would also extract 3.5 billion litres of groundwater each year and risk the Great Artesian Basin – a critical water source for farmers and communities of inland Australia. 

The Pilliga Narrabri Gas Project is the final CSG proposal in NSW. It’s an unpopular and risky project. After many community victories against CSG in recent years and a strong groundswell of opposition, we believe we are close to victory.  

With your support, the community of the Pilliga region will ensure the IPC process inspires a mobilisation of unprecedented scale to again demonstrate the community’s clear opposition, and protect the Pilliga from Santos CSG for good. 

Read more about the Wilderness Society’s campaign to keep coal seam gas out of the Pilliga and join the fight to prevent Santos from exploiting this timeless landscape.