SUPPORTERS of Santos’ plans to produce coal seam gas from the Pilliga forest say the project can bring valuable jobs, careers pathways for youth and broaden Narrabri’s ag-centric economy.
Opponents claim they outnumber Santos supporters. Their concerns are focused on impacts to groundwater from drilling and fracking and the risk of contamination from chemicals used during CSG production.
But homegrown support remains strong in some sections of the community.
Narrabri resident Louise Tout heads up Yes 2 Gas, a local lobby group. She acknowledges “there is opposition” from some local residents to CSG at Narrabri, but claims “we are in the majority”.
“I have been a local all my life and I know a lot of people. If I didn’t think we had the support, it would be foolish for me to be doing this,” she said.
She said protesters who travel to Narrabri to blockade Santos in the Pilliga forest “are not supported by the community at all.
“We’ve seen first hand how they carry on, specifically the out of town protesters… It’s very dangerous what they are doing.”
She wants the project to go ahead and bring “the stability of the resources sector” to the economy which is currently heavily reliant on agricultural production.
“We can’t just rely on one industry here. We have to diversify to make the economic stronger, so we can weather droughts, for example.”
Santos says gas from Narrabri is needed to fuel industry across NSW, while some analysts argue interstate offshore and onshore gas projects already in production hold sufficient reserves to supply NSW.
Robyn Faber is a former Narrabri Shire Mayor and is managing director of her Family business, Faber toolboxes.
She said she would wait for the Environmental Impact Assessment to be released for public view (due in the coming weeks) before passing judgement on the project’s impacts.
But the gas project makes strategic sense, and NSW should be self-sufficient for its energy needs. She would rather Santos, an Australian publicly-listed company, develop the resource than a multinational resources company.
“If we were to covert coal fired power generators to gas we could double their efficiency, without having to build more power stations and dig more coal.
“Provided we can keep the water OK, then we should be economically diversified and sourcing locally produced gas,” she said.
Resources projects bring career paths to kids in the North West which would not be otherwise available, she said.
“Santos offers proper, beneficial jobs. It’s not just throwing money at a problem.”
Livestock and grains producer Max Davis is a vocal supporter of the Yes 2 Gas initiative.
He farms near to Santos Leewood water treatment facility, which will process the salty brine, known as produced water, which is sucked up from underground during gas production. He is also located near test wells and water monitoring bores which have been sunk in early project works.
“The benefit (of CSG) will be growth of the town, more services and the main thing will be stopping the drift of young people who move away to look for work,” Mr Davis said.
Mr Davis said decades of gas exploration and some production in the Pilliga had left him confident the Narrabri project could be developed safely.
“Someone said to me the other day ‘they’ve finally found a use for the Pilliga scrub’, and I agree with them.
“If they wanted to drill on this place, I am not worried about it in the slightest. The extra income (from payment from Santos) would be a plus for a lot properties here.
“A bit of income on the side is useful to have, especially as farmers get older.”