Santos CEO David Knox has reaffirmed his company will not pursue CSG exploration on properties that do not want it after being quizzed about the potential health effects of the sector on ABC’s Q&A program.
With growing community opposition to CSG gaining ground, questions came from regional NSW residents who asked Knox about the social and environmental impacts of the sector.
Edward Nankivell’s family owns a farm on the Liverpool Plains in northern western NSW and claims Santos does not have a social licence to operate in the area.
“Our community survey showed that over 96% of the farmers have said no to coal seam gas,” Nankivell said.
“Your Santos representative told us if you did not have a social licence to operate in the Liverpool Plains, that you would not proceed. Santos clearly doesn't have a social licence. Are you going to honour that promise and withdraw from the Liverpool Plains?”
Knox said that it was important for famers to be given a choice, stating that Santos would not be looking to access properties where owners had declined to grant it.
“Under this company I operate if you don't want me on your land to drill a well, I will not be coming. I will work with farmers who do want me on their land and I think it’s very important that people are given that choice,” Knox said.
“…we are not an industry that is going to be here for five minutes or even five years. We are going to be working in conjunction with land owners and the communities for probably 20, 30, 40 years. So it is clearly not going to work if we are not welcome,” Knox explained.
Another questioner asked why CSG exploration had been banned from residential areas but not from “water catchments, prime agricultural lands and rural homes.”
In response, Knox pointed to the advantages in using gas as opposed to coal, and pointed to Queensland where the company had signed over 600 agreements for land access with farmers.
Knox said disturbance was an issue to many regional residents, and stated that his company would not operate within 200 metres of any home.
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.
“Following a thorough assessment and analysis of the scientific information provided by Santos, the Commonwealth determined the program will not significantly impact water resources or other Matters of National Environmental Significance,” the company said.
In addition to the exploration and appraisal program, Santos has also committed to gathering important environmental data to establish baseline knowledge of the area including ecological surveys of native flora and fauna, air quality and emissions testing and ongoing work on shallow aquifer monitoring bore programs.
However, both projects have been at the centre of protests from the local community who claim gas exploration will cause environmental harm.
Last week a cultural heritage camp and workshop was been set up near Ten Mile Dam in the NSW Pilliga State forest in protest of the Santos gasfield development.
“The industrialisation of the Pilliga has begun, and so has the resistance” said Phil Laird national co-ordinator for the Lock the Gate Alliance.
Pat Schultz, a spokeswoman for a group of concerned residents said the local community was committed to halting exploration work in the area.
“We feel we have been backed into a corner by governments refusing to listen to us or to consider the impacts of the potential loss of our groundwater if this gas field is developed,’ she said.
“The community of north-west NSW is facing an enormous threat: the invasion of coal seam gas and the industrialisation of our communities, our water and farmlands.”
Santos said it will continue to brief the local community around the work being undertaken in NSW.
“We remain committed to transparent communication and ongoing engagement with the community.”