Lock the Gate Alliance is concerned that public hearings for the Narrabri gas project before the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) will be held online, disadvantaging remote landholders with unreliable internet services.
Santos's major gas project in the Pilliga is due to open for hearings in the next two months, with the NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes issuing a 12-week deadline for the IPC to reach a decision.
The 12-week timeline kicks in when the Department of Planning hands over its assessment report on the project to the IPC. That is not expected to happen until mid-June.
Lock the Gate's spokesperson Georgina Woods said the tight timeline issued was not a concern - more the ability of people who oppose the project to have their say.
"What we want is quality decisions and quality deliberation. There has been a lot of pressure brought to bear to have gas projects in communities, and they deserve a right to weight up these applications.
"Many people in the north-west have problems with their access to the internet and there are real access issues. The public hearing process plays a crucial role in the planning process."
Many people in the north-west have problems with their access to the internet and there are real access issues.
Ms Woods said she had real doubts Santos would even start the project if approved as the oil price had fallen (another arm of its business), and the Pilliga gasfield was limited in output.
The federal government is pushing gas as the economic way out of the coronavirus crisis. An advisory panel on COVID recovery has several members with links to the Santos project.
Santos has welcomed the new 12-week timeline for the IPC to reach a decision.
Santos managing director and chief executive officer Kevin Gallagher welcomed the referral, noting that a decision on whether or not Narrabri can proceed is vital for Santos to determine where it will invest in new natural gas developments to supply the east coast gas market over the coming decade.
"We have applied the best science to the environmental impact statement for Narrabri, " he said. "Santos will participate openly and transparently in the IPC process."
It says NSW imports more than 95 per cent of its gas from other states and as a result, NSW businesses are at a cost disadvantage compared to their peers in other states.