In 2017 hundreds of people opposing the Narrabri Gas Project gathered in the dry bed of the Bohena Creek in the Pilliga Forest to make a statement. Campaigners against coal seam gas are now concerned that the Prime Minister’s new energy deal will fast-track the Narrabri project.
Will Scott Morrison’s $2billion energy deal with NSW fast-track the Narrabi Gas Project?
THE announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday 31 January that he has promised the NSW Government $2 billion in grants and loans in return for 70 petajoules of new gas supplies has set thousands of regional residents on edge and sent climate campaigners into a frenzy.
According to many media reports, Santos’ controversial Narrabri Gas Project is emerging as the front-runner among three projects publicly nominated by Premier Gladys Berejiklian as having potential to contribute to the supply threshold required to snare the federal funding.
The project, which is nearing the final stages of approval, has a prospective generation capacity of exactly 70 petajoules – a coincidence not lost on commentators.
However it is the Prime Minister’s plans to use the arrangement as part of a planned “transition to renewables” and as a way to meet a gas shortage on the eastern seaboard which are the real sticking points for those opposing the move.
“I want households and businesses paying less for their electricity and I want to continue to get emissions down,” Mr Morrison said. “This deal does both.”
“There is no shortage of gas in Australia,” said Member for Barwon, Roy Butler. “There’s a shortage of common sense in Canberra when it comes to gas export policy and domestic gas reservation policy.”
“As a country we have surpassed the rest of the world to become one of the biggest exporters of liquefied natural gas,” Mr Butler said.
“The government has supported this to happen all while our energy prices in Australia have soared.”
The Climate Council is one of many groups pressuring the federal government to take definitive action on climate change but say that the PM’s proposal is a backward step and that investment in gas does nothing to address the issues at hand.
“More gas isn’t a climate policy it is a pollution policy,” said the Climate Council’s CEO, Amanda McKenzie. “Fossil fuels are the problem.”
“You don’t reduce emissions by increasing investment in fossil fuels,” said Climate Councillor and Energy Expert, Greg Bourne.
“The idea that gas will reduce power prices is nonsensical.
“Investing in gas will ensure power prices keep rising and Australia spews out even more greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
While the issues of gas prices and emission reduction, those in the areas surrounding the Narrabri gas field are more focused on a single issue – water.
“Definitely this community don’t want to see it [the Narrabri Gas Project] go ahead,” said Great Artesian Basin Protection Group President, Simon Fagan.
“It’s about water for us.”
“If the last two years hasn’t shown how important water is then nothing will,” he said.
Mr Fagan admits that there is a risk that the federal deal will place unprecedented pressure on the state’s approval processes.
“Speeding it up is not a good idea,” he said. “They have to follow process.”
“The watering down of the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) is a bigger concern,” said Mr Fagan referring to the recommendations of a review conducted by the Productivity Commission whose results were released the day after the PM announced his new energy deal.
According to the Lock the Gate Alliance, some of the review’s recommendations will weaken the IPC by limiting its capacity and compromising its independence.
“The changes to the IPC appear to reduce the opportunity for local communities to have a say on big mining and gas projects that threaten their livelihoods and their local environments,” said Georgina Woods, Coordinator with Lock the Gate Alliance.
“We’re deeply concerned that these reforms will now put the Narrabri CSG project on a fast-track to approval.”
“When combined with moves to effectively abolish consideration of downstream climate impacts from mining and gas projects, these changes today swing the NSW planning system even further in favour of mining giants and away from local communities,” she said.
Mr Fagan says it is more important than ever that the earlier recommendations made by the then NSW Chief Scientist Mary O’Kane are met if NSW is to have a safe Gas Plan.
“It’s a concern that the feds think they can throw their weight around,” Mr Fagan said. “I’m not sure that pressure from the federal government will make it faster but they’re dangling a very big carrot.”
He says now is the time for regional residents to speak to their political representatives about the Narrabri Gas Project and that they are relying on the NSW Government displaying a genuine commitment by adhering to fair and transparent approval processes.
In the meantime, his group’s opposition will not wane.
“We don’t want it to start because if it starts it won’t stop,” Mr Fagan said.