Never has Australia seen community opposition like this to a fossil fuel project. Ever. Not even close.
The project is the Narrabri Gas Project, and it's a huge coal seam gas development proposed by resources giant Santos. The project would be based in the northern NSW town of Narrabri but would largely take place in a precious area of forest and scrubland called "The Pilliga".
Above is a picture of the Pilliga and below is a map. It's easily the largest dryland forest in NSW (and indeed eastern Australia). The area is a treasure. In addition to its inherent natural beauty, it has a rare far-inland koala population, as well as almost unbelievably pure groundwater.
Those are just some of the reasons why a whopping 22,700 submissions against the project were just submitted to the NSW Department of Planning & Environment. The previous record was well under 10,000.
There were just 300 submissions in favour of the project, mostly from Narrabri, which would see a jobs boost from the project. Submissions against the project came from pretty much everywhere.
They came from the local area, from further afield in Australia, from overseas. They came from farmers, from Indigenous groups, from artesian bore advocates, from conservationists, from a group of "knitting nanas", from cotton farmers, from anti-CSG protestors and more. And a submission also came from one particular source who is definitely not to be messed with.
Kennedy is a farmer from Coonamble who relies on pure bore water filtered through Pilliga sandstone to farm cattle and crops on her property half an hour north-west of the Pilliga. The 69-year-old peppers her conversation with phrases like "I'm just a broken-down old farmer" and "I'm just a tired old chook", but don't be fooled.
Kennedy is a tireless campaigner for The Pilliga. She told HuffPost Australia that she could "make a movie with all the evidence" that coal seam gas extraction would decimate the area and its groundwater.
In fact she did. Or at least, she helped make a short video, which for the record contains the excellent line "I'm a farmer. I'm a conservative. We have to protect the Pilliga with our life".
Anne Kennedy did not mince words in the submission she sent in her role as President of the Artesian Bore Users Association of NSW. She called Santos' Environmental Impact Statement a "proponent-driven exercise in spin and misrepresentation".
She said "there are so many flaws in this document that it is hard to know where to begin, or to have time and space to list them all".
And she said "Santos starts the EIS with a blatant untruth. Santos states that the project is not located within a major recharge zone of the Great Artesian Basin. All the CSIRO maps, Geoscience, all GAB mapping, show clearly and irrefutably that this statement is untrue".
Santos has a fact sheet on the website of the Narrabri Gas Project which argues it will protect local aquifers. But Kennedy points to the work of Dr Matthew Currell, a groundwater expert at RMIT, who concluded in May that:
"It is my opinion that there are significant potential environmental impacts that could arise from Santos' proposed Narrabri Gas Project, and that the risk of these impacts occurring has not been given full and adequate consideration in the relevant sections of the EIS.
Specifically, two major environmental risks associated with the project are:
1. Groundwater and surface water contamination, particularly with coal seam gas (CSG) produced water and/or other wastewater produced as a result of the project; and
2. Fugitive gas migration into aquifers overlying the target coal seams (a groundwater contamination and safety hazard) and/or to the atmosphere (a greenhouse gas and/or air pollution risk)."
In addition to threatening the water supply of farmers like Anne Kennedy, contaminated water would have terrible implications for the fauna of the Pilliga, like this adorable little threatened eastern pygmy possum.
The Department of Planning & Environment told HuffPost Australia that Santos will now be asked to provide a detailed response to the issues raised in submissions, and that the Department will seek advice from a range of independent scientific experts.
"There is no fixed time frame for the assessment of the project, but a final decision is not likely until next year," a Department spokesman told us.
You get the impression that Kennedy and many people like her will continue to agitate while they await the decision.
"I would say that this unprecedented enormous number of submissions objecting to this would clearly say to our government that they are wrong, and that they failed to listen to the people," Kennedy said.
"Not failed, but deliberately ignored our constant visits, our endless supply of information and science we provided to them over many years, proving that this industry would destroy our land and water.
"They constantly said that there were just a few selfish ratbag farmers, who wanted to protect their land and water from being destroyed by this industry, and who wanted to be able to continue to supply clean food and water to future generations of Australians.
"They said we were a tiny minority, that most people supported this gas project. The 23,000 submissions prove that its not just a handful of selfish farmers. It is the public. It is all the people who live here and want to continue to eat clean food, drink clean water, and have healthy lives."
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