Saturday 23 September 2017


Mining company Santos has plans for a massive coal seam gas mining operation near Narrabri in the north-west of NSW.  In its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which was put on public exhibition earlier this year, Santos outlined its proposal for 850 gas wells on agricultural land and in the Pilliga Forest (which is crown land).  Almost 23,000 submissions were received by the NSW Department of Planning on the EIS, the largest response ever to a planning proposal in NSW.  Apparently around 18,000 of these were opposed to the development.

The Government is yet to make a decision on whether the project will go ahead.

Santos has been operating a pilot project in the area since 2011 when it took over from Eastern Star.  

There has been considerable infrastructure development already in the area - e.g. test wells, flares, a produced water recycling plant and large holding ponds for produced water.

The Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition made a submission opposing the proposal.  Two of the matters of concern from that submission are in this post.  The other  matters of concern will be in a later post.

 The Impact on the Pilliga Forest

a) The Pilliga Forest, the largest temperate woodland in NSW, will be severely impacted by Santos’ project. This is a very important natural area – a high conservation value forest.  Santos plans to clear nearly 1000 ha of the Pilliga Forest.  It’s not only the size of the clearing that is an issue but the fact that it will be in patches that will result in the fragmentation of a much larger area.  This, of course, means cuts to the connectivity between habitat areas so that wildlife no longer has vegetated corridors for movement around the landscape.  This loss of habitat and corridors will have a serious impact on many native fauna species in relation to their food sources and protection from predation.

Furthermore, it is more than likely that the various pipeline and track corridors and well surrounds (as has been observed in Queensland’s Chinchilla gasfields) will become weed-infested wastelands, threatening the ecological integrity of uncleared areas of the forest.

b) What should be borne in mind is that around the nation extensive natural areas such as the Pilliga Forest have been greatly reduced by human activity since European settlement.  And this clearing is still continuing.  If we are serious about preserving our native flora and fauna and stopping the slide of many species towards extinction, we have to preserve areas like the Pilliga Forest. In the view of the CVCC the claimed economic benefits of the Santos project do not justify the degrading of this important forest.

c) The development will threaten the survival of a number of threatened  flora and fauna species. Threatened fauna species include the Barking Owl, Glossy Black-cockatoo, Regent Honeyeater, Black-striped Wallaby, Eastern Pygmy-possum, Koala, Pilliga Mouse, South-eastern Long-eared Bat and Pale-headed Snake.

d) Another issue of concern to us is that public land – and important public land – will be alienated if the development proceeds in the Pilliga Forest. The forests of this state belong to the people of the state – not to any Government (although these supposedly represent the people but are, after all, of a temporary nature because of electoral terms) or to any mining company.

e) A further risk is the increased danger of very hot fires in the Pilliga Forest.  There have been some serious bushfires in this area in the past.  The addition of fugitive methane emissions and gas flaring to the forest has the potential for really disastrous fires.  It should be borne in mind that we are already facing an increasing risk of fires in areas such as this because of climate change.  Adding methane to the mix makes for a greater likelihood.

Threat to the Great Artesian Basin

a) The water produced as the gas is extracted will be considerable over the life of the project (estimated at 37.5 GL).  As the aquifer which will be affected recharges the Great Artesian Basin, this will have an impact on the Basin. Since gas-mining in Queensland has already been shown to have affected the Great Artesian Basin, there is considerable concern about further impacts on this very important underground water supply.

b) Disposal of the large volumes of produced water is also another issue.  Santos has claimed it will treat the water to remove the salt but just how effective that treatment will be so that the water can be released into the environment is another matter.  There have been serious breaches by mining companies in the past in relation to disposal of saline water.[1]

c) Ensuring compliance is always a major issue. Just how well the treatment is monitored by government will be crucial if the project goes ahead. Unfortunately governments do not have a good record in monitoring compliance. They tend not to invest resources in compliance, either through having a strange notion that companies will always “do the right thing” or because they simply don’t care whether conditions of consent are complied with – unless some pesky member of the public forces them to notice non-compliance!

d) Disposal of the volume of salt extracted from the produced water is another concern.  Peak salt production is stated to be 115 tonnes per day, which means that in a peak year 41,900 tonnes of salt would need to be disposed of.  According to Santos, it will be disposed of in landfill. Where will this happen and what effect will it have on surface run-off as well as on local groundwater at the landfill site?

[1]Santos has already been responsible for pollution of aquifers in the Pilliga with toxic wastewater.

Transpacific, which treated AGL produced water from Gloucester gas mining, was fined by Hunter Water in 2014 for the illegal release of produced water into a sewer.

Monday 18 September 2017

The NSW Government and the Management of the State's National Parks Estate

What the NSW government is doing to our national parks through repeated restructuring and staff cuts is an absolute tragedy. Remaining staff are demoralised and frustrated, seeing their wonderful conservation reserves deteriorating, species declining, with invasive weeds smothering native vegetation, and feral predators sending threatened species to extinction.

According to a report in the Land newspaper: “In the past six years, Parks have shed about100 rangers and about 300 field officers. A number of regional managers have also been axed taking with them decades of bushfire management and pest control management knowledge”.

At the same time Parks regions in NSW have been cut from 66 to 35.

The official stance of the Office of Environment and Heritage that: “Our key focus on fire, pests, weeds, asset maintenance and visitor facilities remains unchanged” is, to put it mildly, fanciful nonsense.

The following is an example of reality.

Fifteen months ago, during an extended dry period, two bushfires lit and left unattended by graziers, burned out the whole of the Chambigne Nature Reserve south west of Grafton, across some 1,500 hectares of conservation land under Clarence Valley Council's management, and all or part of at least five private properties.

Property damage was extensive and environmental damage massive, and the three days of fire-fighting and follow-up removal of trees that were threatening to fall on roads and transmission lines would have cost tax-payers millions, yet not one person was held accountable.

Fifteen months on, and because the parks service does not have the available monetary or human resources, none of the kilometres of park fencing that were damaged by the fire have been repaired. As a result the nature reserve, and the shores of the regional water supply dam at Shannon Creek have been overrun by cattle, trampling the unique threatened flora, and defecating in the region's drinking water.

The “Land's” observation: “For the few staff which are left it must be very demoralising to know that they can't do their job with the resources they have been provided”, would be a massive understatement.

Is this really the best we can do?

- John Edwards

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on September 11, 2017.  

Wednesday 13 September 2017


In a media release on September 6 the Australia Institute revealed that Australia's peak scientific body the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) was paying $10,000 a year for associate membership of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), a mining lobby group known for its campaigns against effective action on climate change.

“The Minerals Council has been on the fringe of the climate and energy debate in Australia, opposing policies that would tackle emissions effectively,” Executive Director of The Australia Institute, Ben Oquist said.
“It defies commons sense that the CSIRO, an organisation that researches climate change and develops renewable technology, gives money to a lobby group that campaigns against effective climate policy and against policies that would increase renewable energy.

“One of MCA’s main functions is to lobby to change government policy. In its 2013 annual report the MCA boasts it ‘was at the forefront of the debates over the carbon and mining taxes; and their abolition (expected after July 2014) will be in no small part due to the council’s determined advocacy on both issues.’

“The MCA lobbies against renewable energy policy, such as the Renewable Energy Target and more recently the Clean Energy Target as recommended by Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel.

“The Minerals Council has also been involved in recent attempts to hobble the advocacy role of charities and environment groups. “

“It is not appropriate for the CSIRO to continue to be a member of this increasingly extremist organisation,” Oquist said.

“While the Commonwealth’s key scientific research organization effectively funds political advocacy for the coal industry, it works to prohibit its own staff from commenting on national science policy.

“While funding lobbying against the Chief Scientist’s recommendations, leaked emails show internal unrest at CSIRO about the national science agency ‘missing in action’ on providing advice on climate change.

“CSIRO should have been the first member to leave the MCA due to climate concerns, but that honour went to AGL last year.

“AGL quit the MCA citing its position on climate change and renewable energy. CSIRO should follow suit,” Oquist said.

In 2016 AGL left MCA stating: ‘AGL’s positions on climate change and renewable energy differed from those held by the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, and AGL has elected not to renew its membership of these organisations.’