Clancy, Katie, Ryan and Charlie were excited to be at ‘Shawwood’ protesting the coal seam gas project that The Great Artesian Basin Protection Group say threatens their futures. “I have one of these stickers on my tractor,” said Charlie.
By KEA BROWNING
ON Wednesday 24 June, a group of 40 young people and their children gathered at a property on the Pilliga Road in Coonamble to protest Santos’ Narrabri Coal Seam Gas Project.
In a bid to call attention to the widespread opposition to the project in regional communities around the Pilliga, the Great Artesian Basin Protection Group Inc (GABPG) committee organised a protest photo to remind people of the need to make their voices heard as the Independent Planning Commission prepares to make a final decision on the project’s future.
“So we have until the 31st of July to put a submission in against the Narrabri Gas project, which isn’t a long time,” said GABPG Committee member Angela Hanigan.
“It’s the final hurdle we have to stop this project and protect our water, so we really felt that as the next generation of farmers and people in this rural community, we wanted to show that we don’t want it to go ahead and we are willing to stand.”
The GABPG representatives say they wanted to involve more younger members of the community because it is the future generations that will have to deal with the environmental fallout of CSG.
If approved, the Pilliga forest would be home to over 850 coal seam gas wells as the first phase of the Narrabri Gas Project.
For the past decade farmers, community members, activists and Gomeroi/Gamilaraay traditional owners have raised concerns about the project’s impacts on the environment, especially on the groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin.
“If coal seam gas keeps on the march, we will see a definite change in our water quality, we’ve just come out of a whopping big drought, but we were lucky to have good quality water that bubbled up endlessly from under the ground,” said Coonamble farmer Josh Borowski.
“Place that in jeopardy and with the sheer lack of rain that occurs in these parts, you’ll see the whole area de-populate and it’ll be only good for sparse cattle growers and maybe the opportune crop here or there, but nothing in comparison to what it is now,” he said.
The Narrabri Gas Project is the most opposed project to ever go through the Independent Planning Commission’s assessment process with 22,700 submissions in opposition, yet federal and state politicians have been pushing the project on its economic credentials and potential as a ‘transitional’ fuel.
Federal energy and emissions Minister Angus Taylor said recently that the Narrabri gas was a way to “support industry and create jobs” in the COVID-19 economic recovery.
However, some economists say that the gas from the Pilliga won’t lower the cost of gas for Australian households and businesses in the way that has been promised, and may even increase them.
A door-to-door survey done by the GABPG in 2014 revealed that Coonamble residents are overwhelmingly against the project, with a ‘no’ vote of more than 97%.
The young people attending the gathering on Wednesday say that this is because so many unaddressed issues have come to light in the decade or so since the project was proposed, such as recent decisions by major insurers not to provide public liability insurance on land where unconventional gas activities were occurring, and the lack of Indigenous Land Use Agreements between Santos and traditional owners.
“Everyone’s busy, it’s rained and the season’s looking good,” said Ms Hanigan.
“But everyone’s taken time to come here because this is more important than all of that.”
The district’s next generation say they aren’t willing to give it up without a fight and are encouraging other young people to speak up.
“We want to live in this district for our whole lives and hopefully all the kids here today can see their lives here as well,” said Ms Hanigan.
“I think this is just about showing that we’re really willing to fight, we’re in this for the long haul and we’re not going anywhere.”
“We want to make the broader population aware that we’re not an ageing population of farmers out here, rather that this is a highly profitable, highly productive area and has a real future for young people,” said Josh Borowski.
“There’s a lot of young people coming back on the land, agriculture’s looking good, technology is coming in, and we’re all lapping that up and looking optimistic about the future,” he said.
“So I’d like to say ‘go stick it’ to CSG.”