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Gas project fire risk is like a gun aimed at farmers, hearing told

Some wept as they spoke and several voiced fears for the wellbeing of their children and grandchildren due to climate change and local environmental degradation.

“We come to you as real people speaking for our native flora and fauna in the Pilliga, we come to you as real people speaking for our precious Great Artesian Basin and our only source of fresh water,” farmer Rowena Macrae said. “We come to you as farmers, business owners, community members and every day down-to-earth Aussies who just want to get on with living life without this huge threat hanging over us each and every day.

“We just cannot take risks with our water and our natural landscape. We are a very resilient bunch out here. We can safely and sustainably grow food for this country in essence forever even through horrendous droughts – but without water, we will simply be no more. And for what? A short-term, high-cost, high-risk project that has no social license to operate, and whose operation will risk our water and our very way of life.”

Speaking on behalf of the Coonamble Chamber of Commerce, Lee O’Connor said 75 percent of the group’s 80 members opposed the project, and 24 percent had no view. One member supported it.

She said the small number of jobs the project would support is not worth the risk to the region.

“A small- to medium-sized supermarket or a smallish livestock feedlot or even a medium-sized medical practice in each of these rural LGAs could also be expected to generate about 12 jobs, year in, year out, with very little in the way of potential downside and lots of add-on benefits to their local communities,” she said.

NSW Farmers Association James Jackson said the “very deep and genuine reservations” about the project in farming communities were held not just “by a few people, but right across board”.

“The only way that agricultural communities and the environment can be protected by the risks presented by the Narrabri Gas Project is that it not be approved.”

Anne Kennedy, another member of the Farmers Association, said if the groundwater system was damaged, her family farm – which produces thousands of tonnes of wheat, beef and barley each year – would be rendered worthless.

“All this would be put in jeopardy, lost to future generations forever, for a short term destructive industry,” she said.

“I have never seen, in all my 72 years, such incredibly united communities, towns, famers, traditional owners all so strongly united to stop this project and save our land and water.”

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In a statement, Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher said the company was pleased to see that the IPC will later be hearing from the Water Expert Panel.

“Narrabri is very important for hundreds of thousands of NSW jobs, more than a million households and tens of thousands of businesses,” he said. “As the Department of Planning found in its assessment report, it is – and I quote – ‘difficult to reconcile the significant community concerns about the Narrabri Gas Project with the technical advice from experts that the risk of any significant impacts occurring is generally low and can be controlled using standard engineering practice and imposing strict conditions on Santos’.”

On Monday, Mr Gallagher told the commission extracting gas from coal seams was a “clever, low-impact way of producing clean energy from coal with a very small environmental footprint on the land”.

If Santos implemented the conditions proposed in the environmental impact assessment report, there would be no harm to water resources or the environment, he said.

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