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Farmers, elders, Teals meet to thwart Santos fracking the Pilliga and the Liverpool Plains

by Callum Foote | Feb 24, 2023 | Energy & Environment, Latest Posts

Kamilaroi elders, farmers and politicians gathered under a temporary pavilion on the Gunn property east of Gunnedah this week, right in the middle of the Liverpool Plains. They want to stop the fossil fuel developments that threaten our food supply, reports Callum Foote.

Farmers and landholders organised a conference this week with the sole intent of stopping Santos’s expansion into the Liverpool plains through the proposed development of the Hunter Gas Pipeline; and if possible, stop the development of the Narrabri and Pilliga gas fields. Cattle farmer Rosemary Nankivell told the meeting:

Santos presents the biggest threat to our way of life, our community and our food production.

Nankivell has lived in the area, on the same property, for her whole life. Her husband Paul quips that “she has only changed bedrooms”. Along with many other farmers, they have been fighting fossil fuel developments in their backyard for over a decade. Many were a part of the Caroona Coal Action Group which managed to successfully block both BHP’s Caroona and Shenhua’s Watermark coalmines which were to be developed in the region.

This success remains a touchstone for how powerful rural communities can be when they put their minds to it. And many are hopeful they will see Santos off.

“We will do this, however the reality is that we have a hard fight ahead. We’ve stared down BHP, we stared down Shenhua, and we won’t be backing down now,” says Nankivell.

Meanwhile, water extracted from the Great Artesian Basin is already at record levels thanks to extraction by CSG operators to supply Gladstone LNG plants. Fracking NSW will propel extraction levels far higher.

Source: @BalmainLiza, Twitter

Majors back it, Teals not

Both major parties, at both Federal and State level, back the project – indeed both the Coalition and Labor parties take large donations from Santos and other fossil fuel interests. The Teals however are opposed.

In attendance at the meeting were Teal federal members Sophie Scamps and Kylea Tink. The politicians arrived via helicopter following a tour over the Pilliga, an area of state forest which has already been subject to Santos drilling.

Scamps said that she made the trip out of her electorate both because action on climate change is a top priority for those who voted her into the lower house last March, and because the battle against proposed developments is not limited to a single area.

“It keeps coming down to integrity,” Scamps said, “People want a democratic system they can trust. People in my area stand with solidarity to the people who are here. The farmers, we know what is happening in our own back yard with PEP11, which keeps getting resurrected from the dead.”

People are starting to lose trust in our political decision makers and the same thing is happening here.

Traditional Kamilaroi descendent Mitchum Neave, who is chairman of Red Chief Local Aboriginal Land Council took the opportunity to address the Federal politicians directly telling them that:

We are leaving our great grandkids a mess for a handful of cash today.

Neave also drew attention to other waste products resulting from mining activities in the region and the lack of proper rehabilitation efforts leaving “scared sites” for generations to come.

Gas fields and pipelines

There are technically two projects which these farmers are fighting to stop. Santos’ Narrabri Gas field, which is currently under threat from a Gomeroi people appeal to a decision made by the land and environment court, and the Hunter Gas Pipeline.

The Hunter Gas Pipeline has been slated to pass right through many of their properties, all contained within the area the NSW Government proudly announced would be considered for gas development in 2020.

Farmers are opposing the pipeline for two reasons. The first is that they simply don’t want to be forced to permit a pipeline which would cut their cropping lands in half to be built in their backyard. The second is that there is no trust that Santos will keep to its word and not frack the Liverpool plains.

“This is how Santos work,” says Nankivell,

They start with a little pipeline here, a few wells over there and then they spread until they’ve developed this massive white elephant industry in your back yard.

This view is echoed by all attending the get-together. “They start in forested areas like the Pilliga and then spread into farm land,” says Margret Fleck of anti-mining advocacy group, Lock the Gate.

Echoing Nankivell’s worries, Fleck says that “it’s the fear of people who are landholders or have a connection to the Liverpool plains that the Hunter Gas Pipeline will lead to an expansion of Santos’s efforts into the Liverpool plains.”

proposed pipeline route

Proposed Hunter Gas Pipeline (Source: NSW Government)

Fleck says that the Hunter Gas Pipeline is the most critical piece of infrastructure for Santos’ ambitions.

Santos has previously been blocked from building a pipeline to Narrabri through other routes when they purchased the Hunter Gas Pipeline last year.

“It’s the only one of the many pipeline’s that Santos still has alive,” says Fleck, “it’s the only one that’s got through to the NSW planning system, even though they still need a pipeline licence.”

It’s just critical, without it, Narrabri can’t connect to the eastern gas network.

Fleck and other experts in attendance believe that the Narrabri gas development would be dead in the water without a connection to the east coast gas market.

Pipeline Rumble: farmers the final line of defence in Narrabri fight over Santos gas fracking

Callum Foote was a reporter for Michael West Media for four years.

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