A contentious NSW gas project is weeks away from approval. Here are 3 reasons it should be rejected



Ursula Da Silva/AAP

Madeline Taylor, University of Sydney and Susan M Park, University of Sydney

New South Wales planning authorities relied on flawed evidence when backing a highly controversial coal seam gas project that may endanger critical water supplies, farmland and threatened species, our analysis has found.

Early next month, the Independent Planning Commission NSW (IPC) is due to announce its decision on the future of the A$3.6 billion Narrabri Gas Project. The commission will presumably give substantial weight to an assessment report by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), which recommended the proposal be approved.

However, we contend DPIE has failed to substantiate its claims that the Narrabri Gas Project:

  • will improve gas security for NSW
  • does not pose a significant risk to important water resources
  • will not cause significant impacts to people or the environment.

Some 23,000 submissions were made on the Narrabri Gas Project, 98% of which opposed it. They include Australia’s former chief scientist Penny Sackett, who says the project is at odds with the nation’s Paris climate commitments.

The pending decision comes at a critical time for Australia’s gas industry. The Morrison government has flagged a gas-led economic recovery from COVID-19, and on Monday there were reports the October federal budget will contain support for the industry.

The experience of the Narrabri Gas Project so far shows government decisions on such proposals must be evidence-based and take full account of risks to the environment, people and the economy.

People protesting the gas project.
Community opposition to the Narrabri Gas Project is strong.
Paul Miller/AAP

What is the Narrabri Gas Project?

The Narrabri Gas Project aims to produce “unconventional” or coal seam gas, by sinking 850 wells in the Pilliga region near Narrabri in northwest NSW.

State authorities have spent four years assessing the project, and a decision by the IPC is due by September 4.




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Some 60% of the project is located in the Pilliga forest – the largest forest and woodlands in western NSW and home to threatened species including the koala. The remaining 40% of the project is next to prime farmland. It is also located on the traditional lands of the Gomeroi people.

As assessment by DPIE recommended the proposal be approved. We believe the evidence upon which the department based its decision was flawed. Here are three big problems we identified:

1. Gas security

DPIE says the Narrabri Gas Project is in the public interest because it will contribute to gas security for NSW. This assertion is based on a scenario in which Santos commits to providing all gas from the project solely to NSW, rather than the wider East Coast Gas Market.

Yet, DPIE’s recommended conditions for approval make no mention of Santos promising, or being legally compelled, to reserve gas for NSW consumers if the project is approved.

A woman stands in front of a gas burner.
Gas industry supporters say its expansion will shore up energy supplies.
Carlos Barria/Reuters

2. Water risks

The assessment fails to provide evidence showing the project does not pose significant risk to high-quality groundwater in a region and ecosystem highly dependent on it.

The project will drill extensively below the Great Artesian Basin, potentially contaminating groundwater, land and surface water. Despite Santos and the department’s assumptions that risks will be minimal, recent research shows methane contamination of groundwater occurs due to changes in pressures during water and gas extraction.

This risks human health and safety, and compromises water quality. Wastewater has already leaked in the proposed project area during pilot exploration and production, demonstrating the high risks involved.




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The department’s assessment of threats to the water table and management of waste brine is not robust. For example, the government’s own independent Water Expert Panel recommends brine be disposed of at landfill facilities. But brine and salt generated by the project would be highly soluble in comparison to standard landfill waste, and require robust storage management to prevent leaching and migration, according to our colleague and co-author of our assessment, Matthew Currell.

The department’s recommendation of an “adaptive management” approach – essentially “learning by doing” – is risky, given the highly complex potential impacts which are almost impossible to guard against.

Forest at the site of the proposed project
Forest at the site of the proposed project is home to threatened species.
Dean Lewins/AAP

3. Effect on people

DPIE’s assessment does not provide robust evidence that people will not be significantly harmed by the project.

Santos commissioned a social impact assessment, and the department engaged University of Queensland professor Deanna Kemp to review it. DPIE took the view that this review constitutes support for the project and states “overall, the negative social impacts of the project can be appropriately managed”.

However in correspondence with our colleague and co-author of our assessment Rebecca Lawrence, Professor Kemp expressed concern the department “misconstrued” her advice and misinterpreted it as giving the project a “green light”. Professor Kemp stated that her advice in no way constitutes a recommendation of approval of the project.




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We believe Professor Kemp was not commissioned by DPIE to comprehensively assess the social impact merits of the project, nor did she do so.

In a response to The Conversation, Professor Kemp said she did not contest the claims made by the authors of this article, and said “any suggestion that my review constitutes an approval of the project would be incorrect”.

There is sufficient evidence to suggest the social impacts in the short and long term will be unmanageable. These include social conflicts over the proposed gas project, loss of rural livelihoods from contamination of both groundwater and surface water, and effects on Aboriginal people and the broader Narrabri community – which is already socially disadvantaged and vulnerable.

Officials inspect the Narrabri Gas Project
Officials inspect the Narrabri Gas Project in the Pilliga region of NSW.
Dean Lewins/AAP

A big decision

The Narrabri Gas Project presents considerable and significantly underestimated risks to the environment, sensitive water resources and communities.

The department’s argument that Narrabri gas will increase NSW’s energy security is highly unlikely and at present there’s nothing to suggest such a condition would be legally enforced. And its assertion the project would not harm people or the environment is not backed by evidence.

On this basis, we believe the Narrabri Gas Project is unsustainable, unviable and not in the public interest.


In response to this article, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said in a statement it “does not agree with any of these claims”, adding:

The Department’s comprehensive assessment of the proposal was informed by extensive community consultation, advice from the Narrabri Shire Council, government agencies and independent experts, including a Water Expert Panel,“ it said.

The assessment concluded that the project is critical for energy security and reliability in NSW, would deliver significant economic benefits to NSW and the Narrabri region, and has been designed to minimise environmental impacts.

Santos has made a commitment that the gas would be provided only to the domestic gas market and has agreed to accept a condition to this effect on any petroleum production lease granted for the project.

The Department’s assessment found the project is in the public interest and is approvable, subject to strict conditions.

Comment has been sought from Santos.The Conversation

Madeline Taylor, Lecturer, University of Sydney and Susan M Park, Associate Professor of International Relations, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia: Largest Solar Power Farm Opened


The link below is to an article that reports on the opening of Australia’s largest Solar Power farm – the Greenough River Solar Project in Western Australia.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/10/australia-solar-farm-renewable-target

Democratic Republic of Congo: Upemba National Park


The link below is to an article reporting on a very exciting project – the rehabilitation of the Upemba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

For more visit:
http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0919-hance-deverell-upemba-interview.html

Renewable Energy: Massive Wind Power Project in Texas


The following link is to an article on a major wind power project in Texas, USA. The technology being developed as part of this scheme could be of major importance for energy production and storage around the world. Being able to store electricity generated by wind power in massive batteries is an interesting development.

For more visit:
http://www.grist.org/wind-power/2011-04-15-no-trees-big-battery-texas-to-install-worlds-largest-wind

 

Google Enters Wind Power Generation Business


Internet giant Google has signed an agreement to invest in offshore wind power generation in the United States. This looks like quite a project. Have a look at the Google Blog post concerning this enterprise at:

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/wind-cries-transmission.html

Recycled Ink Cartridges to Build Bicycle Track in the West MacDonnell National Park


Here is a great recycling news story coming out of the Northern Territory in Australia – a 170km bicycle track is being built between Alice Springs and Simpson’s Gap in the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park, out of recycled plastics, including plastic from used printer ink cartridges. The bike track is a popular tourist destination in and around Alice Springs, so this upgrade is certainly a welcome one – especially given it that is being made out of recycled plastics. Full marks to the Northern
Territory government on this project – great news for all.

http://www.engadget.com/2010/06/13/recycled-ink-cartridges-used-to-build-bike-path-in-australian-na/

Visit Repeat Plastics Australia at:

http://www.replas.com.au/index.shtml

The Wilderness Society Being Torn Apart


Infighting is threatening to destroy the environmental group, ‘The Wilderness Society.’ A court battle now looms in order to sort out the mess that has become The Wilderness Society.

This is a group that I have supported in the past and depending on the outcome of the court case and what then happens with The Wilderness Society will determine whether I support the group again.

The Wilderness Society is a well known environmental group in Australia. It was formed to fight the Franklin Dam project in Tasmania in the 1970s.

The following link is to an ABC news article reporting on the story:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/05/03/2889021.htm

The Wilderness Society website:

http://www.wilderness.org.au/

The video below is a reflection on the Franklin Dam project protest.

 

ELECTRIC CARS COMING SOONER RATHER THAN LATER


In great news for the environment and consumers it seems that ‘green cars’ will be arriving in Australia sooner rather than later, with infrastructure for electric cars to be set up in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne within four years. The project is a joint venture between AGL, Macquarie Capital and Better Place.

The project aims to set up recharge stations for electric cars at workplaces, homes and shopping centres. It is thought that some 250 000 recharge stations will be built in the project. Such projects have already been set up in Israel and Denmark.

Macquarie Capital is to raise $1 billion to build the recharging network, with AGL to supply renewable energy for the project. Better Place will actually build the network.

Should the project go ahead and the infrastructure be built, motorists will be able to dump petrol and diesel vehicles and move to electric ones. This will of course be a great relief from rising fuel costs and help protect the environment from further greenhouse gas emissions.