Pilliga Forest: Hopeful signs in campaign against Santos gas project

If Santos can’t build the Queensland-Hunter Gas Pipeline, it can’t develop the Narrabri Gas Project in north-west NSW.

In 2023, the IEU joined other unions and community groups campaigning against the proposed Santos coal seam gas project in the Pilliga Forest at Narrabri. We did this to support the Gomeroi people who don’t want this project to proceed and to avoid more frequent and extreme impacts of climate change.

Late in 2023, there were two hopeful signs this destructive fossil fuel project may be stalled or derailed. First, the Federal Government committed to supporting fast-tracked legislation to strengthen the water trigger so it applies to all forms of unconventional gas. This means the government is required to assess fracking projects and consider the impact on water supply.

The union movement, grassroots movement Lock the Gate, and local community groups were also successful in prompting a reconsideration by Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek as to whether Santos’s Queensland-Hunter Gas Pipeline is a “controlled action” under Federal environment law. If Santos can’t build the Queensland-Hunter Gas Pipeline, it can’t develop the Narrabri Gas Project in north-west NSW.

Another hopeful sign was Santos announcing it has further delayed the date of making a ‘final investment decision’ for the Pilliga-Narrabri gas project. This will now take place in 2025. Santos cited a failure to secure Native Title Determinations and approval for the necessary pipelines as the reason for the delay. The board has said that the project remains “unsanctioned”.

IEU submission

In December 2023, the IEU made a submission to Minister Plibersek to reconsider the assessment of the environmental impacts of the Queensland-Hunter Gas Pipeline which had not been officially scrutinised since 2009. Since then, new information has come to light revealing the threatened plant communities and wildlife along the gas pipeline route.

The IEU submission stated: “Australia must act to protect what is left of our native species. Since 2009 the situation regarding threatened species and collapsing ecosystems has clearly worsened. Climate change impacts cannot be ignored as they often were 14 years ago.

“Australians not only face losing our natural heritage but a direct threat from more intense and more frequent bushfires and flooding. During the Black Summer bushfires in 2019-2020 which killed 33 people and burned more than 24 million hectares, students could not play outdoors for weeks due to the smoke, not to mention the 2700 families who lost their homes,” the submission said.

“Bushfire smoke killed over 400 Australians that summer according to the Medical Journal of Australia. Australian children deserve to live in a country that protects native species from extinction and that takes climate and environmental threats seriously. We used excuses in 2009 that we must no longer use. This pipeline and other fossil fuels projects must be stopped.”

Bushfire risk

In late 2023, a bushfire raged through the Pilliga forest, highlighting how dangerous it would be if 850 gas wells were drilled there.

The fires burned through more than 130,000 hectares. “This is a large bushfire that has been fuelling dangerous, fire-generated thunderstorms with smoke visible from hundreds of kilometres away,” Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt said.

The IEU hopes sanity and respect for the Gomeroi people will prevail and that the Pilliga project and other new fossil fuel projects are shelved.

David Whitcombe