Narrabri Gas Project proponent Santos has revealed plans to turn the salt by-product of the $3.6 billion coal seam gas scheme into baking soda.
With the controversial mine just weeks away from going before the Independent Planning Commission (IPC), Santos announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with an American firm to convert the waste by-product into sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda.
CSG mining typically produces a vast amount of salt that has to be disposed of, potentially creating a major environmental headache. Narrabri's 850 coal seam wells would produce about 33,600 tonnes of salt per year.
Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher said the company had been working with US firm Natural Soda for 12 months to create a commercially-viable model for creating a sodium bicarbonate industry for Narrabri.
"The salt removed from the water is a natural product and, if our concept study is successful, could be converted into valuable sodium bicarbonate," he said.
"That's a win-win. It creates a new industry, more jobs, it's good for the environment and good for farming."
The water extracted from the ground through the gas mining process is treated to a "very high standard that is suitable for irrigation, stock watering and other purposes" after the salt has been removed, he said.
"However, if things don't work out as we hope, the water will still be able to be used for irrigation and the salt removed from the water will be disposed of in accordance with all waste laws."
He said the agreement is a commitment from both Santos and US firm Natural Soda to complete a concept study that will inform a final investment decision to produce sodium bicarbonate in Narrabri.
Australia currently imports baking soda, which is used in cooking, pharmaceuticals, swimming pool chemicals, industrial chemicals and in animal feed.
Colorado-based company Natural Soda is the second-largest producer of sodium bicarbonate in the US.
Natural Soda president Kirk Daehling said Narrabri salt "appears to be very similar" to their facility's feed stock.
Local farmers are meanwhile preparing to have their say on the controversial scheme, which many local landholders fear will threaten local groundwater supply.
The hearings will be held online or over the phone during the COVID-19 crisis.
NSW Farmers will host a webinar today (July 7) to help landholders navigate the online system.
Chair of Narrabri's branch of NSW Farmers David Scilley, who doesn't oppose the project, said he will probably be putting in his five cents about how he thinks it can be the best mine for the region.
He only gets a single bar of phone reception at home, which is going to make it tricky, he said. The Independent Planning Commission will hold public hearings on the Narrabri Gas Project from July 20-24.