Santos will today be sentenced in the NSW Land and Environment Court for the spill of untreated water at its Pilliga drilling site in the north-west of the state.
The allegations date back to 2011 when Santos was a shareholder of Eastern Star, a company it took over in November of the same year.
When Santos took over drilling sites in the Pilliga woodland it released a report detailing more than a dozen incidents of pollution which it says occurred under the previous operator.
Many of the breaches had not been previously reported, including a spill at the Bibblewindi Water Treatment Plant which has since been decommissioned.
There were 16 spills or leaks of contaminated water from the series of about 30 "test wells" in the region.
Incidents included serious spills of saline water into woodland and a creek, to kangaroos drowning in a water storage area, both of which were not reported.
Santos plead guilty to the charges in September and said it has “fully cooperated throughout the process, including releasing a report on the operational issues uncovered in the Pilliga and bringing them to the attention of the regulator”.
“Santos accepts it will be held responsible for the reporting failures, despite the fact they occurred when the operating company had different ownership and management, and has thus pled guilty in the NSW Land and Environment Court,” the company said.
As part of its work in NSW, Santos plans to drill 15 exploration wells in the Pilliga State forest and restart existing pilots that have been shut in since Santos took over Narrabri operations in November 2011.
However, both projects have been at the centre of protests from the local community who claim gas exploration will cause environmental harm.
“Given their track record, Santos plans for 400 wells in the Pilliga Forest could turn the region into the biggest environmental disaster zone NSW has seen," The Wilderness Society’s campaign manager Naomi Hogan said.
Pat Schultz, a spokeswoman for a group of concerned residents said the local community was committed to halting exploration work in the area.
A NSW Trade & Investment spokesperson said the projects received approval “subject to strict environmental reporting and monitoring conditions”.
“Before Santos can produce water from these wells they are required to lodge and have approved a produced water management plan,” the spokesperson said.
She added the company has to get the go-ahead to shift water through flow lines to its Leewood facility outside the Pilliga Forest before the wells begin producing water.
The company says it has spent around $17 million dollars on the rehabilitation of various sites in the Pilliga since taking over in 2011.
Protesters have today gathered outside Santos’ Gunnedah office and the Land and Environment Court in Sydney to await the sentencing result.