VOICES FOR THE EARTH: Narrabri gas and public interest
The NSW Independent Planning Panel’s decision to approve Santos’ 850 well Narrabri Gas Project has attracted considerable media attention. Unsurprisingly it was welcomed by Santos and the NSW Government and others who expect to benefit from the project.
This project has been controversial for years because of the long-term impact it is likely to have on a very productive agricultural region as well as on the high conservation Pilliga Forest. And there are a variety of other concerns – including the carbon emissions generated in the production of this fossil fuel, the threat gas flares pose to the fire-prone Pilliga Forest and the viability of the Siding Spring Observatory and the Dark Sky Park, an important tourist attraction in Warrumbungle National Park.
Water is a significant issue. Farmers are concerned about the threat to local aquifers as well as to the recharge zone of the Great Artesian Basin. There are also concerns about how Santos will deal safely with the enormous volumes of saline water that will be produced over the 20 year life of the project.
The Planning Panel accepted written submissions and heard from the proponent and its supporters as well as from a range of farmers, scientists and other opponents. Then the Panel approved the project declaring it was “in the public interest”.
What exactly is meant by the term “in the public interest”?
Obviously it is in the interest of Santos and its shareholders – as long as this project does not become a stranded asset.
And, seeing that both the Federal and NSW Governments have been pushing for expansion of the gas industry, it is presumably in their interest too. Fossil fuel interests – companies and their lobbyists – also support it wholeheartedly. So does the Australian Workers Union because it thinks it will create jobs for its members.
So does this make the project in the public interest?
Is it in the public interest to irretrievably damage the water resources of a major agricultural area, to increase carbon emissions and to destroy the Pilliga Forest?
The NSW Independent Planning Panel has a very strange notion of what the public interest is.