The Narrabri Gas Project, a coal seam gas development located just to the south of Narrabri proposed by energy company, Santos, was initially assessed more than six years ago, with Santos releasing its Environmental Assessment in March 2014.
That same year, the chief scientist and engineer of NSW presented 16 recommendations to the NSW government to tackle the many challenges and risks posed by the coal seam gas industry.
In December last year, the NSW Legislative Council's industry committee agreed to inquire into and report on the implementation of these recommendations.
In February that report was released.
The report noted that while the NSW government had claimed the recommendations were either complete or in progress, that was not in fact the case.
The CWA of NSW issued a statement at the time, urging that the Narrabri Gas Project not proceed on this basis.
We support a ban on unconventional gas extraction, like coal seam gas, in NSW. This is not least because the chief scientist's recommendations have not been properly addressed, despite the NSW government having almost six years to do this and to increase community confidence in the safety and transparency of this industry.
In March, the NSW Planning Minister referred the Narrabri Gas Project to the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC), the final step in the process in terms of project approval, and ultimately the final hurdle before being permitted to commence production of gas at the project site.
In the referral advice, the minister has recognised the current difficulties with holding safe public hearings, a necessary step of the IPC process. The minister has also acknowledged the potential problems with virtual or online hearings, given the vast communication issues in regional NSW.
We do not see a safe way to proceed here. We are calling for this project to be put on hold.
Like many other aspects of our life, our economy, our society, COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we participate in society, and the consultation required for this assessment is no different, and in fact, this is something we should be treating with extreme caution.
It is the only proposed coal seam gas project for the state of NSW.
It would be premature to proceed without the chief scientist's recommendations firmly in place, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic, the likes of which we have never seen before here in Australia.