Would you want a big corporation drilling gas wells on your land? The Gomeroi people of NSW certainly don’t. Here’s what’s happening and how you can support them, writes Monica Crouch.
In 2020, energy giant Santos gained Federal Government approval for a $3.6 billion coal-seam gas project at Narrabri on the NSW North West Slopes.
It is a huge project. Up to 850 coal-seam gas wells could be drilled on 1000 hectares of land that includes some of the Pilliga Forest.
As part of the federal government’s plan for a “gas-fired recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic, this project was one of 15 slated for fast-tracked approval.
Despite the NSW Government’s initial concerns that rushing it through would “undermine public trust”, it was signed off by both state and federal governments by November 2020.
During its deliberations, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment received 23,000 submissions, the Guardian reported. Nearly 98 percent were opposed tothe project on the grounds it would polute agricultural groundwater, impact pressure in the Artesian Basin, harm biodiversity and emit greenhouse gas.
On Gomeroi land
“Your land, your choice,” Santos says in big capital letters on its website. The choice of the Gomeroi people, traditional owners of the Pilliga Forest, is to keep the forest safe. They voted overwhelmingly to reject the gas drilling.
But Santos then launched proceedings in the National Native Title Tribunal, aiming to go ahead regardless.
The Pilliga Forest is an important cultural and spiritual site, Gomeroi woman Suellyn Tighe told the National Indigenous Times in March 2022.
“We refuse to allow Santos and the Morrison government to sacrifice the Gomeroi Nation and our sites for the financial benefit of a global conglomerate,” she said.
Gomeroi man Raymond Weatherall said, “Every tree, every bird, every animal is part of that beautiful ecosystem that is so special to us. Our land is worth more than money.”
Support and solidarity
As proceedings in the National Native Title Tribunal got underway on 11 April, about 200 people demonstrated outside the Federal Court in Sydney in solidarity with the Gomeroi people.