Post bushfire in the Pilliga Forest and what Santos are doing

Following on from the aerial observations conducted over the Pilliga in January 2024, Northwest Protection Advocacy recently spent four days in the Pilliga Forest in an effort to observe and document the impact of the Duck Creek bushfire on the forest and Santos’ infrastructure. The days were very hot with extreme UV, with the forest floor in some places reaching 45° – 50°+ in the late afternoon.

Our inspections explicitly show that despite Santos’ claims to the media that the Pilliga fire did not pose a risk to “facilities” the fire encroached right up to fence lines of gas wells, destroying fence posts and melting plastic installations like water tanks and plastic pipe. There is little to no transparency on this and certainly no transparency around what it costs the taxpayer to protect the “facilities”.

Over the course of the four days, we visited numerous sites. The images in our gallery reveal the shocking and confronting sight of the forest which burnt extremely hot with canopy fire in many places. There is epicormic growth on some of the larger trees and we noted cycads in some places. There is vision through the burnt landscape into the distance.

The extent of the burnt area of State Forest can be seen on this map from the Forestry Corporation (acquired via GIPA). A total area of 130,000ha was burnt during the fire, covering state forests, national parks and freehold land. Just over 79,000ha of state forest were burnt. Described as a Major Fire, the smoke was visible hundreds of kilometres away.

We saw emu and kangaroo in several different places and lots of animal tracks near dams, birdlife was sporadic and mostly near water sources. The forest is quiet. In some places the understory has regenerated but in others not as yet. There is evidence of pigs at Yellow Springs Dam. Hunting is permitted in the State Forest at this time.

Hundreds of large trees have been cut down along the Newell Highway. This work was done in an effort to make safe the roadside verges but was perhaps over-zealous as many of the trees would not have posed a risk of falling onto the road.

Recent additions to the Santos website have included a revised Field Development Plan (FDP) and an Environmental Audit – they can be accessed here.

The Gomeroi Native Title win in the Full Federal Court on Tuesday, 5th March 2024, does not appear to have impacted Santos’ works program which is being conducted according to the latest Field Development Plan (FDP) and the Narrabri Gas CSG Vertical Drilling program.


However, things are not going to plan for Santos, who failed in negotiations with a key Jacks Creek, Narrabri titleholder to obtain land access for corehole Dewhurst 34. According to the latest FDP approved by the Minns Government, Santos used its fall-back plan of siting Dewhurst 34 in NSW Forestry-controlled Box Woodland directly across the road.

Particularly along gathering lines (pipelines), for which Santos has non-exclusive access, there is evidence of very hot fire. Many of the IBC’s on vents are melted out of shape, the surrounding vegetation incinerated and new Santos signage was observed on many pieces of infrastructure and some burnt signs are still in place.

Sites requiring clean-up by Santos

Bohena 5 on Plumb Road (an abandoned gas well site which Santos is attempting to rehabilitate) has had the fence removed although some panels remain on the eastern side, polycrete blocks and rubbish are still on site. Some fencing panels have been pushed over.

Bohena South 1 on Worombi Road is the subject of a complaint to the NSW Environment Protection Authority concerning burnt Santos waste left lying around the outside of the perimeter in the public forest. This site was being rehabilitated prior to the fire and ringed by irrigation hoses with fibreglass spray tubes and nozzles. These have been mostly burnt (some remain – see images) and the screws and bolts which held it all together also remain. It is clear that Santos has made a half-hearted attempt to clean up.

Ecological and cultural values

Bohena Creek Billabong has been fire-impacted, it is holding some water and is an important source for fauna with many tracks and birds in evidence. The billabong, one of several anabranches of Bohena Creek, is a source of freshwater crustaceans and represents a significant Aboriginal site for the Gomeroi.

Bohena Creek Billabong

Huge pad observed deep in forest 

Dewhurst 43 – New Corehole

Work continues at this newly cleared pad which is very large. We were informed that the pad was not draining so now big drains have been instituted. They carry run off into the forest. A water monitoring bore has already been installed.

This pad sits right on top of the recharge zone of the Great Artesian Basin at 350+m elevation and the vegetation surrounding it is totally incinerated by recent fire. It is at the southern edge of PEL238 and deep in the forest, so quite remote and difficult to find especially as some road signs have been destroyed and not yet replaced. Dewhurst 43 is listed in the Narrabri Gas CSG Vertical Drilling program.

We were also informed that the corehole has been drilled to 6m. There is some confusion in Santos’ FDP about this corehole. The FDP appears to have an error. The Resources Regulator comments received on Revision B (draft) in the consultant section say:

“In section 5.1 of the FDP, it states: New shallow water monitoring bores will be installed at Bohena South 1C, Bibblwindi 6, Dewhurst 9, Dewhurst 35 and Dewhurst 43. With the exception of Dewhurst 43, the remainder are either new water bores located on existing well pads, or recompletion / re-purpose of existing wells into multi-level monitoring points. As such, Dewhurst 43 is the only new site that will require establishment.

Based on this one would assume that Dewhurst 43 is a new site.

However, in Table 5.1 Proposed non-linear gas field infrastructure for Phase 1 under section 5.4, Dewhurst 43 is listed as a groundwater monitoring bore site but there is a footnote that says:

(a) Dewhurst 43 is an existing core hole that will be converted into a groundwater monitoring bore.

This statement would imply that Dewhurst 43 is an existing site. This needs to be clarified so that it is clear which sites are new sites and which are changes to an existing site.”

SANTOS DO NOT CLARIFY – They say “Dewhurst 43 is an existing well pad and core hole that will be converted to a deep reservoir monitoring bore.”

At this time we believe that Dewhurst 43 Corehole is undrilled and inquiries are underway.

Dewhurst 28

We attended this production well and heard high- and low-level frequency noise suggestive of a gas leak under pressure.

Bibblewindi Water Treatment Plant

Significant impact from fire was observed. The fence that previously surrounded the rehabilitation area has been removed however there are star pickets at various intervals that remain. The flare appeared to be unlit and exhibited refraction. The facility was quiet and the area around the ponds appeared to be in disrepair. Evidence can be seen in the video of a very hot fire.

Roads in the forest are in good condition at the moment. Some have been widened and the area has been made safe by the Rural Fire Service and Forestry. It is still wise to be wary of falling trees and limbs particularly if the wind gets up and also be careful of burnt out stumps that can make large holes. In regards to the recovery of the forest, we will have to wait and see how it goes.

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NWPA is a grassroots group of volunteers formed in 2017 to fill a gap in on-ground community monitoring of the coal seam gas industry, and other fossil industry threats to land, air and water. We also scrutinise project documentation, fund tours and investigations, and make public access applications under State and Federal freedom of information legislation using donations sourced from the community whom we report back to.

We are fully reliant on our donors, large and small, who make it possible for NWPA to undertake its unique role. Your donations make this work possible, and help us to keep Santos, its contractors, and NSW Government regulators accountable. We are grateful for your support.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Roger Marmion Reply

    Great work everybody.
    This Santos madness has to end soon.
    Flaring during bushfire period is crazy.
    I haven’t been able to get out there recently but am monitoring from the coast.

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