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Narrabri gas exploration could destroy the NSW food bowl

NEW South Wales farmers have slammed the NSW Government’s new Future of Gas Statement as a “threat” to agriculture in the region.

Just months after approvals for the divisive Shehuna Mine was cancelled, Santos can now drill 850 wells in the Pilliga to pump gas to Sydney, which it says will not affect critical groundwater or soil quality.

In announcing the plan, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said significantly reducing PELs will restore certainty among gas users and local communities.

“We have heard the concerns and questions from our regional communities around PELs and I can confirm today we are reducing the area of land available for gas exploration by 77 per cent. The active PELs that remain will be to support the long-term future of the Narrabri Gas Project,” Mr Barilaro said.

“Supporting gas production in and around the Narrabri region and investment in gas-related infrastructure will help to create thousands of jobs, strengthen local economies and drive the state’s recovery from COVID-19.

The blue areas on this map show where gas mining will be prohibited. The grey areas show where it remains up for consideration. Source: Future of Gas Statement by NSW Government

But not all stakeholders are convinced.

NSW Farmers’ Association President James Jackson says that NSW Farmers support the use of gas as an energy source.

“However, we are dismayed at the trade-offs being made by government in selecting large areas of highly productive agricultural as sites for future gas supply,.” Mr Jackson said.

“This approach picks winners and losers.

“For our members in these areas, the government’s promise to protect the prime agricultural land and water of the Liverpool plains and promote regional growth rings hollow.”

Winners and losers approach: NSW Farmers President James Jackson

Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean says that gas is essential for the manufacture of industrial products, some of which are used in agricultural production.

“Gas is an essential source of energy to manufacture products such as fertiliser, and heavy construction materials,” Mr Kean said.

“The NSW Government is determined to set a clear policy framework to secure supply and put downward pressure on prices.”

Despite promises by representatives of the NSW Government, James Jackson remains unconvinced by rhetoric put forward.

“At the time of the Shenhua decision, the Deputy Premier clearly stated ‘It means there is no mining here on the Liverpool Plains. It’s the end of this saga! Full stop. Full stop.’ Mr Jackson said. 

Our members thought they had some certainty, 90 days on that certainty has been taken from them. The role of the Agriculture Commissioner was introduced to make sure that agriculture was a key part of these decision-making processes.

“This Statement was an opportunity for the Commissioner’s role to make a difference and protect agricultural land and water: this has not occurred.”

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Elliot Goodyer

Elliot is a freelance print and radio journalist with a passion for experimental radio fiction, podcasting and international affairs

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