An announcement was made last week of a new step in the quest by Santos to gain approval to proceed with the proposed $3 billion Narrabri coal seam gas project.

The NSW Planning and Public Spaces Minister, Mr Rob Stokes, has referred the project to the processes of the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).

The NSW Department of Planning will complete its assessment procedures and hand over to the IPC for a determination and recommendations.

The new process will include IPC-conducted public hearings before a new report and recommendations are presented to the Government.

Santos has welcomed the news of the referral to the IPC and repeated the company’s claim that the project will produce the most competitively-priced gas for NSW customers.

The company has stated that the Narrabri gas fields will be ‘100 per cent-committed’ to the NSW market.

The company has claimed that its gas production plans will be conducted according to full compliance with environmental laws and expectations.

However, the history of the project shows that it has generated strong opposition from some individuals and groups, including landholders, environmentalists and political activists.

That opposition is expected to be made evident at the public hearings in Narrabri.

The full IPC assessment process is expected to take at least 12 weeks following the receipt of the NSW Department of Planning report.

The new stage of the Narrabri Gas project comes at a time when the Australian economy is beginning to feel the economic and social effects of the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

The announcement on Wednesday by the Prime Minister, Mr Scott Morrison, of a multi-billion dollar support package for the constrained Australian economy, including many thousands of small businesses across the nation, may or may not have a bearing on the prospects for a major gas extraction near Narrabri but it is also clear that resource security of all types will figure largely in the thinking of State and Federal Governments as they grapple with the consequences of the newly-announced pandemic.

There is no doubt that the forthcoming public hearings will see a broad exchange of views and positions, all based on fervently-held concerns, scientific expertise, or ideological beliefs, but it is to be hoped that the processes of the IPC will be truly independent and its decisions will be clearly determined by science and the factual assessments of risks versus benefits presented in coming weeks.

Whatever conclusions are reached by the IPC there will be significant effects on this district for the years ahead.

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