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Federal Government approves Santos Narrabri Gas Project despite staunch opposition

Rachael Knowles -

The Morrison Government has given the green light to the Santos Narrabri Gas Project (NGP).

On Tuesday Federal Minister for Environment Sussan Ley approved the project under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) and gave the NGP a number of conditions which work to protect regional biodiversity, groundwater and local community.

"I am satisfied that the conditions, and the staged nature of work in the area, will safeguard the biodiversity of the Pilliga Forest," Minister Ley said.

"My approval has also been informed by advice from the Commonwealth Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development to ensure the ongoing protection of precious water resources."

The approval conditions include:

A system that monitors ongoing bore-monitoring and pre-empts impacts on groundwater aquifers

Protocols for corrective actions and cease-work provisions at gas wells

A robust chemical risk assessment framework

The establishment of a Community Benefit Fund of up to $120 million.

"As the economy recovers from COVID-19, game-changing projects like Narrabri are critical to creating jobs, driving investment, turbo-charging regional development and delivering more competitive energy prices," said Santos Managing Director and CEO Kevin Gallagher.

"This is a significant step forward for the Narrabri community, a majority of whom support the project and the jobs, business opportunities, infrastructure and community investment that will come with it."

However, there is major opposition to the project with the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) giving the NGP approval despite 98 per cent of submissions opposing the project.

Over 22,000 opposing submissions were received, the largest number of objections ever received on a NSW development proposal.

Gomeroi Traditional Owner Polly Cutmore continues to stand strongly against the NGP.

"Scott Morrison doesn't decide for us, the IPC doesn't decide for us what happens on our Country. We do, not them. These policies and procedures are just to suit white men, not us," she said.

Gomeroi woman Karra Kinchela and Nathan Leslie, who is a descendant of the Gamilaraay, Wiradyuri, Mandandanji and Wonnarua peoples, have been campaigning alongside Cutmore.

"We're doing a lot of communicating; we have a lot of supporters across Australia. We have a lot of different groups around, we have frontline on-ground groups, we have people in the background doing legal work ... we are gaining more community backing and giving community the ability to have their say," said Kinchela.

"We're feeling strong, and we're feeling powerful. Although it's under harsh circumstances, this can only bring us together and we will benefit."

Leslie has facilitated conversation at a community level between mob and between those within the impact zone for the NGP.

"At the moment, it's just conversations. A lot of mob just don't know what is going on. Unfortunately, this has been a very, very well devised plan by the State and Federal Governments," he said.

"We had this IPC happen, unfortunately, I have to call that what it is and I think it was just a mechanism just to allow the legalities of what is going on."

Leslie noted concerns with the environmental impact of fracking.

"World scientists are saying no to fracking ... but the Government, local, State and Federal, are not listening to these environmental scientists, or climate change scientists," he said.

"There are these huge implications on environment which we know is so connected to who we are as mobâ€"between us, our land, our family, our kinships and our cultural, spiritual, religious beliefs."

Kinchela spoke of the condition asking Santos to establish a Community Benefit Fund.

"Money is going to come and go, I personally am not interested in the money. I'll give them that money back and they can leave," she said.

"We have a big nation, we can't cover just the Narrabri shire and community, and I believe every single one of us is entitled to a lot more than $120 million between us. I mean, where is our land?

"We still have not made any agreements with anyone, any government body as our Nation."

Santos was contacted for further comment, however did not respond by time of publication.

By Rachael Knowles

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