The bigger picture

What is the Santos Narrabri Coal-Seam Gas Project?
Santos is a major Australian gas company who want to drill 850 coal-seam gas wells on Gomeroi Country in the Pillaga and surrounding areas over the next 20 years. This is called the Santos Narrabri gas project. This project would extract the equivalent of half of NSW current annual gas use every year.
Drilling for coal-seam gas is very destructive for the environment. The NSW Independent Planning Commission’s (IPC) approval of the project was one of the most controversial in NSW history with Gomeroi, farmers, local residents and environmentalists all fighting hard against it. A record 23,700 people and organisations made submissions to the IPC against the proposal and only 300 supported it, but it was approved anyway.

What will the impact be?

Destruction of the cultural landscape
The Pillaga is an area of major cultural importance for Gomeroi and was also a meeting place for different tribes for ceremony and law. There are hundreds of recorded Aboriginal sites within the Santos project boundary. Gomeroi will lose access to many special places and traditional foods and medicines. Ecosystems and relationships with Country that are the foundation of law will be damaged or destroyed. The project will be incompatible with the continuing cultural practice on Country and Native Title rights may be extinguished.
Climate catastrophe
The destructive cycle of droughts, extreme heat-waves and floods is already having a terrible impact. The Santos Narrabri project would make these problems worse and intensify climate change. Burning coal seam gas creates carbon pollution and extracting the gas will release methane, which is also a damaging greenhouse gas. The project will put an estimated 127 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent) into the atmosphere, making it one of the most polluting projects planned in Australia. The International Energy Agency has been clear that there can be no new gas-fields if the world wants to stand a chance of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees.
Threat to the Great Artesian Basin
The project will drill extensively into the Great Artesian Basin, potentially contaminating groundwater, land and surface water. The Pillaga is a key “recharge” area for the Basin because the forest attracts rain, captures water and sends it underground, a process that could be badly disrupted by Santos. CSG extraction also requires the removal of large volumes of water, risking a reduction in pressure that could stop water flowing freely to the surface from bores and springs across the whole basin, which is the sole water source for towns and farms across 22% of Australia.
Threat to ecology
The Pillaga is a biodiversity hotspot, home to many threatened species and is the largest temperate forest remaining in eastern Australia. Once these ecosystems are destroyed they will be lost forever. Santos currently have no plans to deal with toxic waste products, such as the estimated 840,000 tonnes of toxic salt. Already, Santos’ limited operations in the Pillaga have seen 22 toxic waste spills and dead zones through the forest.

What is happening withNative Title?

Gomeroi people successfully registered a Native Title claim in 2012. While this claim has not yet been determined, any company wanting to operate within the claim area have an obligation to negotiate with Gomeroi.

Despite offering this “right to negotiate”, however, the Native Title system prioritises the rights of resource companies over Traditional Owners. Aboriginal people have no power to veto projects. If claimants refuse to enter into an agreement, companies can apply to the NTT to impose the project anyway, destroying the lands and potentially extinguishing Native Title.

On March 24, 2022, Gomeroi voted overwhelmingly at Nation meeting held in Tamworth to reject the agreement offered by Santos. This was a historic vote that showed clearly the depth of sentiment amongst Gomeroi to fight to protect the Pilliga.

In April 2022, a hearing commenced in the Native Title Tribunal, to consider an application lodged by Santos, who are seeking to over-ride Gomeroi rights. Both the NSW and Commonwealth governments supported Santos’ application.

Just prior to Christmas, 2022, John Dowsett, the President of the Native Title Tribunal, delivered his ruling in favour of Santos.

Summarising his judgement, Dowsett said:

"The Gomeroi applicant submitted that the proposed grants should not be made, asserting that the Narrabri Gas Project would result in grave and irreversible consequences for the Gomeroi People’s culture, lands and waters and would contribute to climate change. The Tribunal does not doubt that the Gomeroi applicant’s concerns are genuine. However the Tribunal concluded that the Gomeroi applicant had failed to justify its assertions that the proposed grants would have such effect… the Tribunal concluded that the proposed grants would provide a public benefit, significantly outweighing the Gomeroi applicant’s concerns, particularly having regard to the limited and imprecise evidence provided in connection with such concerns."

In March 2024, the Federal Court overturned this decision, upholding an appeal brought by Gomeroi people. This was an historic decision which has set back Santos’ plans. The Court ruled that Justice Dowsett failed to properly consider the issue of climate change when he ruled that the project was in “the public interest”.

However, Santos is still pushing ahead with their plans. It is likely that they will bring another application to the NTT, seeking a new ruling to over-ride Gomeroi rights. If the Tribunal does fully consider the climate issue, but still decides that the economic benefits of the project mean it is in “the public interest”, the project could be allowed to proceed once again.

Gomeroi should not have to suffer through further racism in the Native Title system. The NSW and Commonwealth governments should withdraw support for this project and stop Santos in their tracks. We need to prepare to mobilise to stop Santos no matter what happens with Native Title.

Please sign the petition against this disgraceful attack and prepare to mobilise to stop Santos regardless of what the court decides.

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The Gomeroi Ngaarr website is being administered by a collective of Gomeroi people supported by Jumbunna Research, University of Technology Sydney. Photos on the site courtesy of NorthWest Protection Advocacy and the Pilliga Push documentary.
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