The Morrison government has approved a controversial gas field in northwest NSW, paving the way for the $3.6 billion coal seam project to go ahead.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said her approval was based on the Commonwealth’s expert science committee on coal seam gas.
“I am satisfied that the conditions, and the staged nature of work in the area, will safeguard the biodiversity of the Pilliga Forest,” she said on Tuesday.
Oil and gas giant Santos has been given the go-ahead to build its Narrabri project over 95,000 hectares in the forest and nearby grazing land.
It involves drilling 850 new gas wells over 20 years.
Federal approval conditions to protect water in the area include an early warning system with ongoing bore-monitoring to identify potential groundwater issues.
A chemical risk assessment framework will be in place for coal seam gas operations.
Santos will also be bound to stop work at gas wells if a groundwater exceedance is predicted, while 134 other state government conditions must be met.
The NSW conditions include clearing limits, impact mitigation and land rehabilitation criteria.
Local farmer Scott McCalman said landholders across the Narrabri district were furious about the approval.
“It is frankly disgusting that state and federal governments would just write off 23,000 submissions against this destructive gas field and ignore the science that shows it will threaten our groundwater,” he said.
Resources Minister Keith Pitt said Santos had linked 200 jobs directly to the project with a further 1300 roles in the construction phase.
“This decision paves the way for Australia to make the most of our own abundant natural resources and will provide a big boost to the local manufacturing industry,” he said.
Traditional owner Polly Cutmore said Gomeroi people would continue to fight the project.
“Scott Morrison doesn’t decide for us, the Independent Planning Commission doesn’t decide for us what happens on our country,” she said.
“We do, not them. These policies and procedures are just to suit white men, not us.”
Left-leaning think tank the Australia Institute’s climate director Richie Merzian said the project would do nothing to improve energy security and reliability.
“The federal government’s decision to approve the Narrabri gas project not only endangers water and the environment, but will permanently lock NSW manufacturers into high gas prices,” he said.
The Climate Council’s Lesley Hughes said the government should instead be helping Australia become a world leader in renewable energy.
“The Narrabri project will have devastating impacts on local biodiversity and water resources, and will accelerate dangerous climate change,” Professor Hughes said.
“Australia does not need new gas, and a majority of Australians don’t want it.”