Santos’ coal seam gas proposal has already faced opposition around Narrabri. (ABC News: Chris Gillette)
When Scott Morrison announced a $2 billion energy deal with the NSW Government to get more gas into the east coast market, it reignited a division that has split the residents of the north-western NSW town of Narrabri.
- Narrabri residents are split by a proposed 850-well Santos coal seam gas project
- The Federal Government has announced a $2 billion gas deal with the NSW Government
- Opponents to the Santos project fear the new agreement will speed up NSW Government approval
“Narrabri has become almost a touch point for this debate,” Tony Wood, the director of the Grattan Institute’s energy program, told 7.30.
Santos has invested more than a billion dollars in a Narrabri coal seam gas project, which involves drilling more than 850 wells in coal seams, mostly on state land in the nearby Pilliga forest.
“I know of people that were neighbours and relatives that don’t speak to each other anymore,” local businesswoman and councillor Ann Loder told 7.30.
“And that’s really sad for us because Narrabri’s a lovely place.”
The project is still being assessed by environmental authorities in NSW, but opponents fear the new deal with the Federal Government will be used to push the project through the approval process.
Santos won’t ‘pre-empt approvals process’
Chief executive Kevin Gallagher says Santos has always wanted an independent approvals process. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
While coal seam gas has been extracted from wells in Queensland for more 20 years, the industry has stalled south of the Tweed.
But Santos’ CEO Kevin Gallagher does not think this new deal will necessarily mean more coal seam gas projects in NSW.
He said the company would “have to wait and see how that plays out”.
Mr Gallagher also refused to speculate on whether the gas deal had improved the chances of the project securing the final approval.
“I’m not going to pre-empt the approvals process,” he told 7.30.
“What we have always said is that we think it’s a good project, we think it can be developed safely, but we’ve always called for an independent, robust and transparent approvals process.”
“I think the most pleasing aspect was the recognition that gas has to play a central part of any emission strategy.”
The deal aims to supply an additional 70 petajoules of gas into the east coast market but has been slammed by environmental groups for promoting fossil fuels.
‘Come and talk to us’
Ann Loder wants the Prime Minister to come and talk to Narrabri residents about the Santos project. (ABC News: Chris Gillette)
Opponents of the project in Narrabri are suspicious of the timing of the landmark gas deal between the Prime Minister and NSW Premier.
“My message to Scott Morrison is that he needs to come out here and talk to us,” Ms Loder said.
“We’ve never spoken to any premiers or prime ministers in relation to the coal seam gas issue.”
The main objection by Narrabri landholders is that the extraction of methane from the coal seam will damage the groundwater that farmers rely on.
“It think it’s disgusting,” said Robyn King, whose property is south of the proposed project site.
“The project is over a recharge area for the Great Artesian Basin.
“There’s enough science out there to convince the majority of people that it cannot co-exist, coal seam gas extraction and agriculture cannot co-exist.”
Narrabri farmer Anthony Brennan is a supporter of the gas project because it will create jobs. (ABC News: Chris Gillette)
But another Narrabri farmer, Anthony Brennan, whose property borders the Santos project, believes fears about groundwater damage are unfounded.
He is swayed by the promise of 2,000 construction jobs and 200 ongoing roles.
“One of the key things for the region around here is what it will do for the economy,” he told 7.30.
“Particularly for keeping young people in this region, I think that’s an important thing.”
The role of gas
Under the Santos plan, more than 850 wells will be drilled in the region, mainly in the Pilliga forest. (ABC News: Chris Gillette)
According to Mr Wood, how big a role gas will play in the future is still open to debate.
“What’s been happening in the last 10 years is, firstly, the cost of wind and the cost of solar have come down much more than anyone expected and much faster,” he said.
“And, secondly, in Australia the cost of gas has gone up.
“That combination means that the role of gas to replace coal is unlikely now to be the sort of transition fuel role that we’d expect.”
But he said he still expected gas would be in the mix.
“The role of gas, rather than replacing coal in big volumes, is more likely in which it balances wind and solar,” he said.
“Gas plants can respond very quickly compared to a coal-fired station to changes in the output of wind and solar.
“I think that’s the role the Prime Minister should be talking about, and I think he is really.”