Coal seam gas fear on Liverpool Plains as Santos outlines plans
Farmers on the Liverpool Plains have expressed concern about plans for coal seam gas exploration, after obtaining information indicating Santos wants to drill up to four core holes in the next three years.
The Wilderness Society has obtained a document under freedom of information relating to an application from Santos for an extension of Petroleum Exploration Licence 1 (PEL), which covers a large area of the Liverpool Plains.
The document is in addition to an application made in December 2014, and contains additional information required in light of the introduction of the State Government’s Minimum Standards and Merit Assessment Procedure, part of the “use it or lose it” policy.
In the document, Santos said it intended to spend $3.9 million over five years on work that included drilling one to four core holes, and geophysical studies.
A number of pages in the document have been blacked out, meaning the location of the potential core holes is unknown.
But the document does outline an intention to “explore and appraise two possible CSG targets identified in the Gunnedah Basin, namely the late Permian coals of the Black Jack Group and the early Permian coals of the Maules Creek Formation”.
Farmers unclear about future
Mullaley-based farmer and grazier David Quince said it had people worried.
“What’s happening is that the farmers and the businesses that lie in that area on the Liverpool Plains have got this angst, this terrible threat of coal seam gas and what it might bring to their businesses and their country, hanging over them,” he said.
“Santos hasn’t been forthright in revealing this.”
Santos said due to a number of special circumstances, including a changing regulatory environment, it should not be required to relinquish the PEL.
“Relinquishment of any further portions of PEL 1 at this stage would mean the titleholders have not been afforded a reasonable opportunity to undertake an adequate technical assessment, and potentially development of the petroleum resource through on-ground exploration works,” the application stated.
“A waiver of relinquishment at this time would allow Santos to conduct staged exploration activities in alignment with the minimum standards.”
Those staged activities include further community and stakeholder consultation activities, environmental management and rehabilitation activities, evaluation and planning for exploration and appraisal activities, and providing data to inform future relinquishment requirements.
Deputy Prime Minister urged to act
Mr Quince is calling on Deputy Prime Minister and New England MP Barnaby Joyce to take action.
“Barnaby has quite clearly stated, and he quite clearly states this all the time, that he’s against mining on prime agricultural country,” Mr Quince said.
“Well, those PELs are the epitome of prime agricultural country.”
Mr Joyce said he remained opposed to mining on prime agricultural land.
“My position remains the same. As much as we can do at a federal level we will, but this is overwhelmingly state legislation,” he said.
Mr Joyce said the Federal Government’s actions were limited by legislation.
“If you go much beyond what you’re allowed to do, then you go for a trip to the High Court,” he said.
“The Constitution is quite clear on who has what responsibilities in what areas, and if you step over that line, it doesn’t matter what you say, the State Government will say, ‘Read the Constitution Charlie Chapman, you’re not allowed to tell me that’.”
Santos focusing on Narrabri gas project
Santos general manager of energy for New South Wales, Peter Mitchley, said in a statement the company had “no plans to work outside the Narrabri Gas Project area at this time”.
“Santos’s Narrabri Gas Project is a strategic energy project under the NSW Gas Plan, meaning the company is focused on developing much-needed gas in the Pilliga, and that all other work obligations in surrounding licences (including in PEL 1) are in abeyance.
“Any future work, should it be planned, would be subject to landowner consent, community consultation, and rigorous regulatory assessment.”
Mr Quince said he did not buy it.
“The Narrabri Gas Project is a Trojan horse for Santos’s real intentions, which is to coal seam gas mine the Liverpool Plains,” he said.