Narrabri Gas Project EIS leaves locals frustrated

Overwhelmed: Local community members Stuart Murray, Sally Hunter, Rohan Boehm, Hugh Barrett, Tony Pickard, Bevan O'Regan and Elizabeth Squire contemplate the scale of the 7,000 pages Narrabri Gas Project EIS. Photo: Contributed
Overwhelmed: Local community members Stuart Murray, Sally Hunter, Rohan Boehm, Hugh Barrett, Tony Pickard, Bevan O'Regan and Elizabeth Squire contemplate the scale of the 7,000 pages Narrabri Gas Project EIS. Photo: Contributed

A 7000-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Narrabri Gas Project (NGP) that’s been at least five years in the making has the local community overwhelmed, with only 60 days to frame its response.

The EIS for the project was placed on public exhibition on 22 February 2017. 

Many in the community believe Santos has deliberately stymied the community’s response efforts by limiting availability of the file in an accessible electronic form.

Complying with its obligations of ease of use and accessibility, as promised to the local Community Consultative Committee. 

A limited number of the 25 kilogram documents have been put on display at various locations around the region, but cannot be borrowed.

Santos has also provided limited numbers of the EIS in electronic format.

However, the PDF files provided on memory stick originally appeared to be deliberately formatted to disallow sectional printing and electronic notation. 

Santos seeks to conclude more than 10 years of exploration in a crucial groundwater intake area of the Great Artesian Basin in the Pilliga State Forest just south of Narrabri.

The EIS is required to gain planning approval from the NSW Government to develop coal seam gas (CSG) in the area, with around 850 wells proposed in the NGP. 

The NGP has long been a contentious project across the region and nationally. Community organisations and citizens, concerned that the EIS warrants intense scrutiny, have requested government planners provide at least a further 30 days to allow the public to wade through the company’s submission and to frame their own. 

One of the groups requesting an extension is People for the Plains, a community education and advocacy group from the Narrabri region.

The group recently met with the Department of Planning officers to go through the development assessment process, where it also re-affirmed its desire for a longer response time. 

“We were completely floored, however, when our local member, Kevin Humphries, came out the next day on ABC Radio and said that, to him, the EIS was just the final tick” said People for the Plains Vice-President Stuart Murray.

“This flies in the face of everything we discussed with the Department, which assured us that there would be most a most rigorous assessment, with all submissions from the public carefully considered”. 

Mr Humphries was quoted as saying on ABC Radio "There might be a little bit of grandstanding but at the end of the day the project will go ahead and I'm highly supportive of it” 

“In other words, Mr Humphries is saying that it’s a done deal and all the work proposed by the Department of Planning will be for naught” said Mr Murray.

“The same applies to all of the submissions being prepared all around the community. What a waste of volunteer time and what a statement about the State’s planning processes”. 

NGP is the State’s most significant CSG development proposal, covering an operational area of 98,000ha, mostly in the Pilliga forest and some private land.

Because of its complexity, having to deal with surface and groundwater contamination, endangered species, greenhouse gases, health, and disposal of produced salts amongst other things, People for the Plains urged the minister to grant an additional time for the community to understand key parts of the documents and to provide a considered response.