Outrage At Green Light For Narrabri Coal Seam Gas Project

Coal seam gas wells

Image: Lock The Gate

The Morrison Government has granted final approval required for the controversial Santos Narrabri gasfield project in New South Wales. But many locals and their supporters are still determined to see it never goes ahead.

Santos has its sights set on sinking hundreds of coal seam gas wells across 95,000 hectares in the north eastern part of Pilliga State Forest and adjoining grazing land. This will involve clearing close to 1,000 hectares in a patchwork manner for the wells and connecting lines.

The conditional approval was signed yesterday by Federal Minister against for the Environment, Sussan Ley.

“I am satisfied that the conditions, and the staged nature of work in the area, will safeguard the biodiversity of the Pilliga Forest,” said Minister Ley.

The Minister may be satisfied, but many others aren’t. In the lead-up to this approval, 22,484 submissions opposing the project were lodged with NSW Department of Planning – 98% of all submissions were against it.

Those opposed to the project believe it will have a devastating impact on local biodiversity and water resources, and will accelerate climate change not just through the burning of the gas, but also through fugitive emissions associated with extracting it. Methane is estimated to have a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 28–36 over 100 years, while the GWP of carbon dioxide is 1.

Morrison Government “A Driver Of Environmental Destruction”

The Climate Council lashed out at the decision, stating it cemented the Morrison Government’s position as a climate change laggard.

“Australia does not need new gas, and a majority of Australians don’t want it,” stated Climate Councillor Professor Lesley Hughes. “Governments and investors should be helping to transform Australia into a world leader in renewable energy. This would get Australians back to work now, while future-proofing our economy.”

The Climate Council lodged a submission with the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) strongly opposing the Narrabri Gas Project a few months ago that contained among other arguments concerns over Santos’s emissions estimates.

Lock The Gate: Not Wanted Or Needed

Local traditional owners, farmers and concerned community members have vowed to continue the fight against the Narrabri Gas Project states Lock The Gate Alliance.

“Renewable energy is the cheapest, most efficient, and cleanest way for people to power their homes and businesses,” said Lock the Gate Alliance NSW coordinator Naomi Hogan. “Gas, particularly expensive and polluting coal seam gas like that at Narrabri is not wanted or needed.”

Lock The Gate says by the time by the time Santos gets around to constructing the gasfield, renewable energy will have an even stronger foothold – and the company may not be able to find investor support.

“It’s easier to pull the wool over the eyes of politicians than it will be for Santos to convince investors to burn their money on this polluting gasfield,” said Ms. Hogan.

Santos says the Narrabri Gas Project could supply New South Wales homes, small businesses, major industries and electricity generators with up to half the state’s natural gas requirements. However, the Grattan Institute states gas will inevitably decline as an energy source for industry and homes in Australia.

On a related note, a recent report from The Australia Institute indicates the Federal Government’s “gas-fired recovery” will not help Australia’s manufacturing industry, but will likely benefit gas exporters.

With export markets continuing to gobble up most of our gas, it just reaffirms Australia’s position as a Typhoid Mary of climate change.

A recent survey indicated just 12% of Australians would prefer an economic recovery to be primarily powered by gas, compared to 59% who want it powered by investment in renewable energy – and among all energy sources, solar power was the most popular.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. CleanlivingClyde says

    Its a shame we have to wait for the inevitable outcome…
    I would look forward to it, but it’s US and our kids that will be affected.

    “Who’s laughing now”

  2. Geoff Miell says

    All the compelling evidence I see indicates the Narrabri CSG project:
    – has no social license;
    – is environmentally hazardous; and
    – is not commercially viable.

    I’d suggest whomever invests in this project will likely ‘do their dough’!

    Bruce Robertson, an analyst with The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), says:

    “With the approval of Narrabri, we’re embedding infrastructure into the system that is not going to see out its economic life, and that’s the key takeout here.

    We are rapidly moving away from using gas, for example, in the household. It’s cheaper to heat your home with a reverse cycle air conditioner now. As AGL says itself on its website, it’s much safer to heat and cook with electricity rather than gas.

    Narrabri gas definitely can’t boost domestic supply or even lower prices for consumers for a very simple reason. That is, Narrabri gas is very high cost gas and producing something at a high price can’t bring down the price of that commodity. It’s that simple.”
    See: https://ieefa.org/ieefa-australia-narrabri-gas-projects-lack-of-social-licence-will-make-pipeline-approval-problematic/

    Dr Madeline Taylor, an expert in energy and natural resources law at Sydney Law School and the Sydney Environment Institute at University of Sydney, concludes in an op-ed in today’s SMH:

    “The federal environmental approval means that the regulatory path to develop the Narrabri project is now clear. However, questions remain about its commercial viability, especially given concerns about the sustainability of gas consumer markets and the increasing shift towards renewable energy instead.”
    See: https://www.smh.com.au/national/narrabri-gas-project-goes-against-all-commercial-odds-20201126-p56i33.html

  3. Stephen English says

    The reality is that the wind does not always blow and there is huge inter-day solar variability. In Adelaide my solar production varied from 33.9 to 117.7 kWh per day in November and 3.7 to 120.3 over the whole year. It is very bad luck if the no wind day is the same as the 33.9 kWh day! But it happens! The largest battery in Australia will power a smelter for 10 minutes. We have very limited opportunities for pumped hydro, we want to retire our coal fired generators, we are (stupidly) opposed to nuclear so all that is left is gas to pick up the shortfall when there is little solar and little wind.

    • Geoff Miell says

      Stephen English,
      You state the obvious: “…the wind does not always blow and there is huge inter-day solar variability.”

      Stephen, do your water services stop flowing when the rain stops falling? Perhaps having adequate water storage has something to do with keeping the water supply flowing, eh? Likewise, having adequate energy storage and robust transmission overcomes the problems of solar and wind energy variability.

      You also state: “The largest battery in Australia will power a smelter for 10 minutes.”

      For now, but the economics will likely change that situation, and soon. Battery storage systems will get cheaper and bigger with greater storage capacity.

      For example, at Moss Landing, California USA, recent approval has been given for a grid battery storage system of 567 MW with 2,270 MWh (4 hours at max power) storage.

      Battery storage systems are now outcompeting gas ‘peakers’.
      See: https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-and-levelized-cost-of-storage-2020/

      But battery storage isn’t the only technology.
      See: https://arena.gov.au/projects/dispatchable-renewable-electricity-options/

      You state: “We have very limited opportunities for pumped hydro…”

      Dead wrong. Australia has potentially 6,500 GWh of pumped hydro capacity per million people.
      See the Global Pumped Hydro Atlas: http://re100.eng.anu.edu.au/global/

      You state: “…we are (stupidly) opposed to nuclear…”

      Not stupid – for very good reasons:
      – too expensive – more expensive than gas, coal and renewables;
      – too slow to deploy – for Australia likely 15-20 years away;
      – relies on finite fuels – not long-term sustainable;
      – has a toxic waste legacy that will long outlast any energy benefits gained.

      The Victorian Parliament Legislative Council Environment and Planning Committee published its report of its inquiry into nuclear prohibition last month (25 Nov 2020) with findings including:

      “FINDING 3: Notwithstanding the ambiguities of the costings, the Committee received substantial evidence that nuclear power is significantly more expensive than other forms of power generation and it is recognised that, currently, nuclear is at the high end of the cost range across all technologies.” (p72)

      “FINDING 5: Without subsidisation a nuclear power industry will remain economically unviable in Australia for now.” (p72)

      “FINDING 9: Those who propose a policy shift have not presented any argument, data or proof in support of their position that cannot be nullified by those arguing against. Any advantages are speculative in nature, and do not outweigh the identified and proven risks.” (p159)
      See: https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/epc-lc/article/4350

      Stephen, it seems to me you are showing your ignorance. Please stop regurgitating Murdoch media, fossil fuel and nuclear proponent propaganda.

  4. Stephen English says

    The Portland smelter will empty the 567 MW battery in less than four hours – it requires 620 MW every hour of every day.
    I support solar and was a very early adopter of rooftop solar in a previous house. Somebody in the world will attract all our smelters if we do not have the power and they will probably use dirty coal to generate power so the world will be a lot worse off. We need huge quantities of very cheap power that is always available and solar and wind cannot provide that. Snowy Hydro 2 will provide power for Portland for 23 days but it is not the only user that wants a lot of power.
    It is not all gloom and doom with higher CO2 levels because it enables us to produce more food. Perhaps that is the Lord’s plan – he can see a much bigger picture than us.

    • Geoff Miell says

      Stephen English,
      You state: “We need huge quantities of very cheap power that is always available and solar and wind cannot provide that.”

      Reliable, affordable, rapidly deployable renewable energy supply solutions are certainly available, as ANU Professor Andrew Blakers explains in the YouTube video titled “Professor Andrew Blakers: 100% renewables and storage – part 1”, published on Jul 23:

      You also state: “It is not all gloom and doom with higher CO2 levels because it enables us to produce more food.”

      Although increasing CO2 levels do improve plant growth if temperatures remain unchanged, however, the increasing temperatures (due to the ‘greenhouse effect’ of increasing atmospheric CO2 levels) are far more detrimental to plant growth and survival, and will consequently diminish human food supply.

      Modern humans and the agricultural crops and livestock humans depend upon for food to sustain us are adapted to the relatively stable climate conditions of the Holocene epoch (i.e. during the past 11,700 years).

      Earth’s climate history previews our hot future. The last time planet Earth’s atmosphere was so rich in CO2 was millions of years ago, before modern humans existed. The current level of GHGs already in the atmosphere indicates a global mean of 1.75–2.4 °C of warming (at equilibrium) above pre-industrial age.
      See: https://www.climaterealitycheck.net/

      Global mean temperature rise above pre-industrial age is currently circa 1.2 °C. As the majority of the Earth’s surface is represented by seas and oceans (71%), it’s inevitable that continental inland temperatures can be significantly hotter.

      Latest climate model simulations indicate:
      1.5 °C warming reached in the year range 2026 to 2028, best estimate (for all simulations);
      2.0 °C warming reached in the year range 2038 to 2058, best estimate (for most simulations, except SSP1-1.9).
      See Table 1: https://esd.copernicus.org/preprints/esd-2020-68/

      A global mean temperature rise of +2.0 °C, likely means an 8 °C rise in inland Australia above what is being seen now. So places that are already seeing 47, 48, 49 °C peak temperatures now, could see 55, 56, 57 °C peak temperatures circa 2050. These would become lethal conditions for humans, agricultural crops and livestock.

      As temperatures continue to increase, the risk of multiple “breadbasket failures” will increase. Breadbasket failure is defined as a major yield reduction in annual crop cycle of a breadbasket region where there is a potential impact on global food systems. In a recent study of global hotspots of heat stress due to climate change showed areas of Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia and North America (40–60 degrees N.), which include the major grain producing areas of the world, as being particularly vulnerable.
      See: http://www.bu.edu/pardee/files/2017/03/Multiple-Breadbasket-Failures-Pardee-Report.pdf

      Unless humanity can rapidly reduce human-induced GHG by more than 50% before 2030, and net-zero before 2040 (NOT 2050) then human civilisation is at grave risk of collapse as food production and clean water supplies become inadequate to support populations.

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