Whilst the New South Wales Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has approved oil and gas giant Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project (NGP), many within the community have great concerns over what coal seam gas could mean for their homes.

The country’s second largest independent producer of oil and gas, Santos has plans to develop its natural gas reserves in Narrabri to supply gas to homes across NSW.

The IPC has imposed strict conditions on the approval after hearing a significant number of objections from organisations and community members regarding its effect on the Great Artesian Basin and the Pilliga State Forest.

“Following its detailed deliberations, the Commission concludes the project is in the public interest and that any negative impacts can be effectively mitigated with strict conditions,” the Commission said.

Gomeroi woman Karra Kinchela made a submission to the IPC in opposition to the NGP. Born and raised in Narrabri, Kinchela’s family has a long history of cultural and spiritual connection to the area and the nearby Pilliga Forest.

“My biggest fear is having to leave … Our people die early, I’m losing my Elders and there’s no one left to help. I’ve got children—all of them are in school now and I have to think about their future,” Kinchela said.

Kinchela felt as though the voices of those opposing the NGP weren’t properly considered and that the decision is causing riff within the town.

“We have so many people in town who put in submissions and they felt as though they haven’t been listened to either. We’re coming into a lot of confrontation; we don’t want to be ‘that town’,” she said.

“Because we have so many of our organisations wrapped up in the gas, they feel like they can’t say anything. To bring them on board as an organisation they would be upsetting their sponsors.”

The NGP’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) stated there will be 1,300 jobs created during construction and 200 ongoing jobs. Kinchela said people should not have to choose between employment and culture.

“I feel that is what our people have been forced to do, choose culturally inappropriate work because they don’t have a choice.”

Kinchela stands strongly beside fellow Gomeroi woman, Polly Cutmore.

“Our people don’t want this gas field and we are here to tell the government, Santos and their investors that will keep on fighting it. The Pilliga is Gomeroi land and Santos is not welcome there,” said Cutmore.

“We will never stop fighting to protect the Pilliga and protect Gomeroi Country from coal seam gas.”

Although many members spoke out against the NGP, Santos remains committed to working with Gomeroi people.

“Santos will work with the authorised Gomeroi applicants and other relevant Aboriginal parties to obtain all the relevant Native Title and cultural heritage management permissions and agreements required for the project,” said a Santos spokesperson.

“Santos has engaged extensively with the Gomeroi on matters relating to Native Title, cultural heritage, environment, water and economic opportunities.

“Santos has ensured the Gomeroi are fully informed on all aspects of the NGP and is committed to working with the Gomeroi for the lifecycle of the NGP.”

Whilst the NGP has the green light from the IPC, the Federal Government will have the final say. The project will require assessment and approval under national environmental law and a final decision is scheduled to be made November 17.

“All relevant matters regarding the environmental impacts of the proposal, including impacts to water resources and listed threatened species and ecological communities found in the Pilliga forest, will be considered before a decision is made whether to approve the proposal,” said a spokesperson for Minister for Environment, Sussan Ley.

“The Commonwealth is currently considering the findings of the NSW Government’s assessment, which has been informed by extensive community consultation.

“All submissions raised through the NSW Assessment process including those from the Gomeroi community will be considered as part of the Commonwealth’s assessment.”

Narrabri Land Council declined to comment on the project.

A Gomeroi Nation meeting has been set for November 14 to discuss the path forward in the community fight against the NGP.

By Rachael Knowles