The Narrabri Gas Project is about to undergo the final stage in the assessment and approval process which has been evidently, necessarily lengthy, expensive and subject to strongly-held opposing views.

On one hand proponents of the project believe that the rigorous and extensive investigations carried out by government and independent scientific bodies have shown that the list of concerns raised by a range of environmental and some agricultural concerns will have minimal impacts on rural farming operations and the environment, while the proposed $3.6 billion development of the coal seam gas field by Santos will hold significant economic and social advantages for the state of NSW and the Narrabri community itself.

Those opposed to the exploitation of the gas resources, however, also remain firm in their belief that the project will still create negative impacts on water resources, biodiversity and continue the use of carbon-based fuels when global warming signals urge a focus on renewable energy sources.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) has undertaken carriage of the principal project assessment task which was recently concluded.

However, in recent years numerous departmental, scientific, and specific environmental and other investigations have been completed, including a coal seam gas report by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, in 2013-14.

In its comprehensive report the DPIE received almost 23,000 submissions on the project, including 17 from government agencies, 133 from special interest groups, and 22,721 from the general public.

The submissions included a strong tide of opposition to the project on a number of grounds.

The NSW Department of Planning’s assessment finally concluded that the project was in the public interest and approvable, subject to strict conditions.

The report states “The Project …” would not adversely affect the region’s valuable groundwater resources; that the project can be designed to avoid and/or minimise impacts, including reducing the predicted footprint by as much as 30%; and that any residual impacts can be reduced to an acceptable level through effective community engagement, compliance with strict conditions and prompt action to address any problems.

“Consequently, the project is unlikely to result in any significant impacts on the local community or the environment.”

The intense scrutiny of the Narrabri Gas Project in recent years has been wide-ranging and professional in scope.

The DPIE Assessment report suggests that the project is viable, economically beneficial, and environmental and landuse issues adequately safe-guarded.

It is also clear that while opposition to the project remains strong the political mood in the current Covid-19 crisis favours the go-ahead for the Santos development.

But, though the extensive assessment and investigation period has concluded one final step remains before we will learn whether the project will get the last green light or languish.

The reality of the current Covid-19 pandemic has meant that planned final public hearings by the Independent Planning Commission will now take place in the electronic environment.

These hearings will be from Monday, July 20 to Friday, July 24, commencing at 9.30 am daily before Commissioners Steve O’Connor (Panel Chair), John Hahn and Professor Snow Barlow.

The Development Consent report to be considered in the hearings detailing the strict conditions applying to the Project occupies 61 pages.

The website hearings will be open to the public and individuals may register through the Commission’s website to speak in the hearings or may present written submissions.

The Independent Planning Commission has urged people to participate in the process.

Interested community members are invited to read the complete document on the IPC website under Narrabri Gas Project.

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