The Narrabri gas project in northwest NSW’s Pilliga region has been approved by the NSW Independent Planning Commission, despite widespread opposition amongst scientists, environmentalists, traditional owners and local farmers.

The $3.6 billion project, proposed by the oil and gas giant Santos, would involve up to 850 coal seam gas wells across a 95,000 hectare site, which includes the Pilliga state forest and nearby grazing land. The wells would reach a kilometre underground and extract around 200 terajoules of gas every day for the next 20 years for domestic use, around 50 per cent of current consumption in NSW.

The project, for which the Planning Commission attracted almost 23,000 submissions, with 98 per cent opposed, is a disaster for both the local environment and the climate. Scientists predict the Narrabri gas fields will contribute almost 130 million tonnes to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the project, and also poses serious dangers to local biodiversity and the groundwater that supplies local agriculture.

The project is a key part of the Morrison government’s “gas-fired economic recovery”, which would see Australia massively expand production of natural gas. Morrison claims the shift to gas will create thousands of new jobs and reduce energy prices, while also reducing carbon emissions.

But the claim that natural gas is a low-emission fuel has been widely debunked by climate scientists, who point to the fact that most calculations do not take into account the release of methane—a particularly potent greenhouse gas—during mining. And while Santos has said it will be able to deliver gas at $6.40 per kilojoule, revised down from $9.36 in its last minute submission, economists have cast doubt over the argument that it will reduce gas prices either.

Budget and renewables

The federal budget in October could have been an opportunity to deal with the growing climate crisis. Massive public investment in renewable energy production could create hundred of thousands of new jobs at a time when 20 per cent of workers are effectively unemployed, and drastically cut carbon emissions at the same time.

Instead, the federal government poured money into propping up the fossil fuel industry, including $53 million to gas and $8.7 million to upgrade the Vales Point coal power station in NSW.

Unions and the climate movement will need to oppose the expansion of the destructive gas industry in Australia and continue fight for serious investment in publicly-owned, renewable energy.

By Caitlin Doyle

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