Narrabri Gas Project: Latest info, Myths & Facts

What is Coal Seam Gas?

Coal seam gas is methane that is held in coal seams. It differs from conventional gas, which has been Australia’s primary gas source, because it requires unconventional methods to extract.
These methods involve removing the groundwater from the coal seam, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. A cocktail of dangerous chemicals are used to drill, with or without fracking.

About Narrabri Gas Project

Santos, is proposing to drill 850+ coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga forest and surrounding farmland. At 95,000 hectares, this is the largest project ever proposed in NSW. The project is also the most controversial, generating a record-breaking 22,700 formal objections. Across 3.2 million hectares of North West NSW, community surveys show that 96% of people wish to remain gasfield free.

NSW Local Government Areas covered by unconventional gas tenements

Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project is not in the public interest:

  • Risks surface and groundwater, including the Great Artesian Basin
  • Produces 430,000 tonnes of salty waste with no disposal solution
  • Will spread to surrounding agricultural land
  • Produces methane emissions
  • Will not lower east coast gas prices

Santos has applied to drill 850+ coal seam gas (CSG) wells near Narrabri, in a major recharge area of the Great Artesian Basin. Many wells will be in the bushfire prone Pilliga forest, the largest temperate woodland in NSW. Over 22,000 NSW citizens, including farmers, Aboriginal elders, scientists, health professionals and environmentalists, lodged objections to Santos’ Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The wells will be either on a flood plain in the north western side of the project area, where Santos have access agreements with landholders or in the Pilliga East State Forest where there is thought to be a geological fault. An assessment of the fault is due 31 December 2020. See Santos refused to reveal any knowledge of this fault line to the Water Expert Panel assessing the project.

Coal Seam Gas Risks Our Water

MYTH: Coal Seam gas will drought proof the region
FACT: The Narrabri Gas Project would risk groundwater that sustains farms and communities across inland Australia.
Santos has to drill through the crucial recharge aquifer of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) to get to the gas. This will eventually cause draw down and loss of pressure.

Toxic wastewater and drilling fluids are known to spill and leak, contaminating water and ecosystems. In the Pilliga, Santos has already been fined for contaminating an aquifer with uranium and other heavy metals and for a spill of 10,000L of wastewater that caused a forest ‘dead-zone’ which is still un-remediated 10 years later.
Failure of CSG well casings is common. Steel casings erode and fail – causing gas leaks and contamination of fresh water supplies.
In QLD, the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment has shown that 101 water bores will be affected in the next three years and 574 bores in the long-term.

The Chief Scientist’s Recommendations have not been implemented in full

MYTH: That the NSW Gas Plan is a robust regulatory framework that will enable coal seam gas to proceed with minimal risk
FACT: A Parliamentary Inquiry led by Shooters & Fishers Mark Banasiak MLC has reported on ‘The implementation of the recommendations contained in the NSW Chief Scientist’s Independent Review of Coal Seam Gas Activities in New South Wales.’
The report reveals that of the 16 Chief Scientist Recommendations only 2 of the 16 original recommendations have been fully implemented and just six partially, the remainder have either been discarded or just outright ignored.

Gasfield Impact Map created by Shay Dougall from Molliwell Consulting

Fugitive Emissions

MYTH: That coal seam gas can proceed with minimal impact on human health
FACT: So far to date there has been no independent health impact assessment conducted on coal seam gas
Air pollution poses a potential risk to workers and people living nearby. Volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbons (including the carcinogen benzene) are released from venting, holding tanks, ponds, compressors and other infrastructure. Experts are now saying that gas is not cleaner than coal and this report authored by Dr. Andrew Grogran shows that Santos have underestimated their emissions.

Stories published here and here detail that Santos has misrepresented the gas composition data of the Gunnedah Basin and that much of the publicly available data shows wells high in CO2.
In 2014 the CSIRO measured emissions at 37 CSG wells in Queensland and 6 in NSW. Only 3 had no fugitive emissions. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, adds to the serious health risks of climate change.

NSW doesn’t need gas from Narrabri

MYTH: As NSW gas supplies are depleted, the state needs the Narrabri Gas Project.
FACT: NSW has never had large gas reserves. Gas was produced from coal in gasworks in Sydney until a pipeline from Moomba SA supplied conventional gas to the city in 1976. Santos provided the gas and AGL retailed it, reducing the city’s pollution. Since then all NSW gas has been imported from other states except around 4-5% from AGL’s coal seam gas wells in Camden.

Pegasus Economics published a report in 2019 revealing that the Narrabri gas project would do nothing to reduce prices, and would instead be the most expensive gas in eastern Australia at over $9/GJ.
Moomba in South Australia has 20 years supply of gas and a pipeline to Sydney. Construction of a $3M LNG import terminal has been approved at Port Kembla, close to users and will be completed before the Narrabri Gas Project can provide substantial supplies. Four other import terminals are proposed for eastern Australia.

Bushfires & flaring are a catastrophic risk

MYTH: Santos has a bushfire management plan.
FACT: The Pilliga Forest is prone to bushfire. The Rural fire Services (RFS) say gas extraction and infrastructure escalate the risk of a fire spreading and increase the danger to firefighters. The risk of gas infrastructure igniting and further inflaming bush fires is too great for some volunteer firefighters who refuse to fight fires in gasfields.
Santos has not demonstrated its claim that the cumulative risks of initiating a bushfire from wells and processing facilities is low. The company’s hazard register does not appear to include hazards and risks to public safety from:

  • Blowouts – the uncontrolled release of gas from a well after pressure control systems have failed.
  • Risks associated with the power generation plant at Leewood
  • Pipeline inspection gauge launch and recovery
  • Other infrastructure within the pipeline corridor e.g. a second pipeline and power transmission cables

Jobs but not many

MYTH: Coal seam gas will create jobs in Narrabri, giving the town’s economy a significant boost.
FACT: In four years, Chinchilla, a similar size town to Narrabri, went from a prosperous rural town, to a booming gas mining town, to a welfare town with high levels of unemployment, crime and drug addiction. Currently houses are being sold for less than a 1/3 of the build cost. Same in Miles.
Santos’ gasfield poses direct and indirect threats to existing long term sustainable industries, such as agriculture and tourism.

The Narrabri gasfield would destroy jobs in other local industries. For every job created in the CSG industry in QLD, 1.8 jobs were lost in agriculture and 0.9 jobs lost in the service sector.1

David A. Fleming Thomas G. Measham. Local economic impacts of an unconventional energy boom: the coal seam gas industry in Australia. Australian Journal of Agricultural & Resource Economics. January 2014.

Community is opposed

MYTH: People in the Narrabri district want the Narrabri Gas Project to start.
FACT: Door to door surveys found 28% of Narrabri residents support the Project, 52% were against it and 98% were in favour of renewable energy development. In shires surrounding Narrabri, 98.7% of the population, that’s 7,000 people over 3.2 million hectares, have vowed to oppose the Project and to block pipelines linking the project to the east coast gas network.
Thirty-five councils in NSW oppose the development of CSG in their region, and another fourteen councils have declared their concern about CSG. A full review by People for the Plains “Assessment of Social Acceptance” of all the surveys conducted in the region can be downloaded here.


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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Rikki Coulston Reply

    The Narrabri must remain intact – surely bushfire risk in forest areas can be seen to be exacerbated by gas escaping from fracking. Please save the Great Artesian Basin – drilling through the Basin must be prevented. There is no known repair kit.

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