A controversial multibillion-dollar coal seam gas project in northwest NSW has been approved by the state’s Independent Planning Commission, subject to more than 100 “stringent” conditions.
The NSW IPC on Wednesday said the Narrabri coal seam gas project could go ahead under a phased approval.
Oil and gas giant Santos wants to develop the $3.6 billion project over 95,000 hectares in the Pilliga forest and nearby grazing land in the state’s northwest.
It involves drilling 850 new gas wells over 20 years, with Santos saying it had the potential to provide up to half of NSW’s natural gas needs.
The project was recommended for approval earlier in the year by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment before being referred to the IPC.
The IPC recommended the project be approved subject to 134 conditions.
“The commission concludes the project is in the public interest and that any negative impacts can be effectively mitigated with strict conditions,” the IPC said in a statement.
Under the phased approval, Santos must meet specific requirements before the project can progress to the next phase of development.
The commission received nearly 23,000 public objections to the project with concerns raised about the impact on groundwater, climate change, biodiversity, agriculture, bushfires, health and Indigenous cultural heritage.
The independent planning body argues the potential groundwater impacts can be effectively managed under the conditions imposed which include Santos updating and improving its groundwater impact modelling.
Santos must also fully offset its predicted greenhouse gas emissions in response to public concerns about the impact this would have on climate change.
The commission said it was satisfied with Santos’ biodiversity assessment but has put in place new conditions to strengthen measures that mitigate impacts on flora and fauna.
Community concerns the project would cause significant physical health impacts were rejected by the commission.
The commission’s approval does not include consent for Santos’ proposed gas fired power station at Leewood, the Westport workers’ accommodation or non-safety flaring infrastructure.
The decision to approve the controversial project has been labelled a disaster by locals.
Coonamble stock and station agent David Chadwick said the commission had made the wrong decision because of “bad laws” and “bad politics” that promoted coal seam gas.
“This decision puts the groundwater resources we rely on in the firing line of this destructive coal seam gas industry,” he said in a statement.
“The commission has made a terrible mistake and has condemned our region to having to keep fighting this destructive industry. Which we will.”