By HARRY CLARKE
THE unprecedented growth expected around Narrabri, after gas company Santos gained approval for its $3.6 billion development, can be managed effectively by drawing on the lessons learned in Queensland’s Surat Basin, experts say.
The New South Wales government’s Independent Planning Commission this week gave Santos’s project the green light, paving the way for staged coal seam gas development in the farming rich Pilliga region.
Plans for the project have been met with resistance from environmentalists, and some in the region’s farming community who are concerned about the potential impacts coal seam gas mining could have on vital groundwater.
Meanwhile the local council and business groups have welcomed the approval.
“You can’t stop the development… so don’t waste your time on negative energy and worry”Rob Hart – businessman, farmer and former gas field manager
Diagram of the Narrabri gas fields. IMAGE: SANTOS
Several towns of similar size and with industry profile to Narrabri experienced rapid development when CSG mining began in Queensland’s Surat Basin, west of the Darling Downs, in about 2009.
Towns including Dalby, Chinchilla, Miles and Roma became overwhelmed with tradesmen, trucks, utes and mining camps when the construction period began.
Coal seam gas brought prosperity to Surat Basin towns but also, in some cases, conflict, particularly between gas companies and landholders.
In light of the commission’s approval of the Narrabri project, the Caller asked two local Surat Basin figures heavily involved with CSG about the lessons Narrabri stakeholders could consider.
Rob Hart, a Chinchilla agriculture businessman who spent four years as Origin’s regional manager during peak CSG construction, said there were prevailing positive and negative outcomes.
He said the majority of complaints he received while at Origin related to traffic and road issues, so road improvements should be a priority leading into CSG rollout.
He said the high voltage powerline built in the Surat Basin was “the best CSG legacy” because it’s today allowing other resource industries, such as wind and solar farming, to flourish.
When it comes to land access and compensation, Mr Hart said the millions of dollars circulating through the local economy created resilience for farming, service industry and local business.
“Farmers should treat gas like another farm commodity – be commercial, stay positive, and work with Santos to find solutions,” he said.
“You can’t stop the development because you don’t own the underground rights, so don’t waste time on negative energy and worry.
“Come up to Chinchilla and talk to local farmers, not the noisy activists or few remaining negative people.
“The silent majority will tell you they were initially worried but have now learnt to co-exist and prosper.”
Former Western Downs Regional Council mayor Ray Brown. IMAGE: ABC
Ray Brown OAM was the mayor of the Western Downs Regional Council when a stream of multinational mining companies began developing CSG in the region.
He also served as Queensland Gas Commissioner during that period.
“You have to listen to emotion, but you have to deal in fact…None of the bores have run dry,”Ray Brown – former Western Downs mayor
“You’ll never change the views of certain people. They’ll have a bee in their bonnet on an issue and they’ll keep pushing it and they’ll only find the facts that suit their argument,” he said.
“But gas companies shouldn’t treat landholders as naïve or ignorant. Their home is their castle. It doesn’t matter whether it’s beautiful black soil or scrubby goanna country.”
He said local and state government authorities should ensure fly-in-fly-out workers are accommodated within townships, rather than on site at the gas fields.
During the Surat Basin gas boom the towns of Wandoan, Chinchilla, Miles, Tara and Dalby all received wastewater upgrades, constructed partly with money from gas royalties and partly through investment from industry proponents.
Mr Brown said the most lasting benefit was gained through the development of major local infrastructure projects – “the stuff that people don’t see that’s under the ground”.
“Sewer lines, good water, security of water – they’re the sort of things that leave a long legacy in the town,” he said.
“The big infrastructure ones go hand in hand with the state authority and the local government to develop projects that will keep the town going for the next 50 years.”