By Glenn Toogood, Santos senior Hydrogeologist
I wish to respond to a number of inaccuracies in a recent comment piece written by Dr Matthew Currell “Groundwater: the natural wonder that needs protecting from coal seam gas”. The Conversation’s vision states that it promotes academic rigour. Unfortunately that is not the case in this article.
Santos takes its commitment to the safe and sustainable development of energy resources seriously. We believe informed, balanced public discussion of the impacts of our activity is essential to maintaining community confidence. To that end we must respond to Dr Currell’s article.
The NSW Environment Protection Agency recently concluded two investigations into Santos’ operations where it found in both instances, there had not been any environmental harm.
Dr Currell however has highlighted these two incidents to insinuate that if Santos’ proposed Narrabri Gas Project goes ahead, it will have a detrimental impact on groundwater.
There is no scientific basis to his insinuation. Neither of the incidents were capable of impacting any useable groundwater resource. There is, however, scientific evidence to which proves the Narrabri Gas Project will not affect groundwater.
The NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Mary O’Kane recently conducted a comprehensive analysis of the industry and based on the evidence, found the industry can precede safely with appropriate safeguards and regulations in place.
More specific to our Narrabri Project, a separate independent study, the Namoi Catchment Water Study, completed in 2012, found our proposed work would not have a significant impact on water in the Narrabri area.
In recent years, the CSIRO (2010 and 2012) and Geoscience Australia have conducted a number of geological assessments of the region. The studies have found that in the area where Santos seeks to work, the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is isolated from the deeper coal seams.
This means the major aquifer of the GAB will not be affected by our extraction of water from the coal seams hundreds of metres below. Contrary to the conclusions put forward by Dr Currell, these studies also noted the major recharge zones of the GAB occur in the Warrumbungles to the south and via the Namoi River to the east, both some considerable distance from our project area.
Dr Currell also cites the Pilliga Forest’s current status as a “nature reserve”. The Pilliga covers more than 500,000 hectares, and while it does include nature reserve areas, the dry north east section where our Project will be based is specifically zoned for commercial activities, such as natural gas extraction and our operations will be located on just 1000 hectares of land.
It is disappointing that Dr Currell misrepresents respected academic sources such as the CSIRO in order to support his biased views of the industry. Dr Currell’s article is plainly inadequate in attempt to communicate the real science behind the industry.
At Santos, the protection of our precious water resources is one of our upmost priorities.
I can say with absolute confidence that at all times Santos uses the best available science to explore for and extract natural gas safely and without harm to the environment. At the forefront of this is ensuring that all water resources, including Great Artesian Basin, are protected and there are numerous independent peer reviewed studies that show our proposed Narrabri Gas Project will not have an impact on either the Great Artesian Basin or local groundwater.