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.

Santos will now proceed with action in the Native Title Tribunal, seeking to over-ride Gomeroi rights.
In May 2021, Santos lodged four “Future Acts Determination Applications” with the Tribunal, asking it to exercise its powers to impose the project by dispossessing Gomeroi if no agreement was reached reached. There will be a hearing to consider their application starting on April 4, 2022.

In deciding whether to rule in favour of Santos, the Tribunal needs to consider many factors, including whether the project is in the “public interest”. Almost always, the Tribunal rules in favour of resource companies against the interests of First Nations, on the grounds that mining is crucial for the Australian economy. The Federal and NSW governments are supporting this argument by Santos.
However, because Santos’ project is so destructive for the environment, Gomeroi will be able to make strong arguments in the Tribunal that protection of Gomeroi rights to land is in the “public interest”.

Gomeroi saying NO to Santos will protect everyone in the community from further climate catastrophe and ecological collapse. If this argument is successful in the Tribunal it would be a major victory, creating important precedent for other Nations standing up to mining companies.

Is the Native Title Tribunal going to destroy Gomeroi rights for a massively polluting gas project in the middle of a climate emergency? Are the NSW and Commonwealth government’s going to continue to support this and issue leases to Santos? History suggests this is what will happen, but we must continue to fight for change.
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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