Eastern Star Gas has conducted coal seam gas exploration and production activities in the Pilliga forest without seeking federal assessment on matters of national environmental significance, according to a report by the Northern Inland Council for the Environment, The Wilderness Society and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.
The report, Under the Radar, was released today following the recent purchase of Eastern Star Gas by one of Australia’s largest domestic gas producers, Santos.
“Eastern Star Gas has undertaken extensive coal seam gas exploration and production without seeking federal approval. This is likely to have damaged the habitat of iconic threatened species such as the Pilliga Mouse and the Regent Honeyeater,” said Warrick Jordan, Campaign Manager at the Wilderness Society Newcastle.
“Santos is taking on the most environmentally destructive and contentious gas project in NSW. As the new owner, Santos should look carefully at the damaging impacts of this proposal and immediately desist or refer all existing operations in the Pilliga for proper assessment.
“We are asking Tony Burke to immediately ‘call-in’ all existing Eastern Star Gas operations in the Pilliga under federal environment laws. Eastern Star should not be able to get away with destroying our natural heritage,” he said.
The Under the Radar report found coal seam gas operations in the Pilliga have cleared more than 150ha and fragmented 1,700ha of bushland, drilled 92 coal seam gas wells, constructed 56.6km of pipelines, and operated 35 production wells without seeking approval under the Federal EPBC Act. These activities have occurred in habitat for federally-listed threatened species, such as the South-Eastern
“Under Commonwealth legislation, any potential impacts on nationally-threatened species must be referred to the Environment Department for approval. Eastern Star Gas has been flying under the radar to avoid this process in the Pilliga,” said Pepe Clarke, CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.
“Eastern Star has recently applied for Commonwealth approval for a large new coal seam gas field in the same area of the Pilliga as existing operations. If these future operations trigger federal environment laws, then so do the existing operations and Santos should immediately cease those operations and be refer them to the Federal Government”,” he said.
“The question remains, will Santos continue Eastern Star’s reckless attempts to turn the iconic Pilliga Forest into an industrial coal seam gas field? If Santos can’t be trusted to abide by environmental laws now, they cannot be trusted to manage the environmental impacts of NSW’ biggest coal seam gas development,” said Carmel Flint, of the Northern Inland Council for the Environment.
Photo: Vowing to fight ... Tony Pickard says he will lock his gates to prevent drilling on his land.
Dean Sewell/ SMH
Read the article Farmers see threat in $900m Santos buyout by Ben Cubby and Brian Robins (SMH, 19/07/2011)
Under the Radar report summary
The Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) makes it illegal to undertake an activity that has, or is likely to have, a significant impact on matters of national environment significance. These prohibitions are set down in Part 3 of the EPBC Act 1999, in s18 and s20 respectively.
There are at least 24 matters of national environmental significance, as defined by the EPBC Act, which occur within the Pilliga Forest section of the Eastern Star Gas Petroleum Exploration Licence 238 and Petroleum Assessment Lease 2. These include known, likely, and potential habitat for 15 nationally threatened species (4 endangered, 11 vulnerable), and known or potential habitat for 9 migratory birds listed under international conventions.
Environment groups have conducted a detailed assessment of the likely impacts of current coal seam gas activities in the Pilliga Forest on matters of national environmental significance, by applying the Guidelines for Significant Impact set down by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC). These are the same guidelines that should have been applied by Eastern Star Gas to assess the impacts of the activities.
The following coal seam gas activities have been undertaken in PEL 238 and PAL2:
1. The drilling and on-going management of more than 92 coal seam gas bores and coreholes
2. The conduct of 482km of seismic surveys
3. The construction and management of 56.6km of gas and water gathering pipelines
4. The development and management of five production fields, encompassing 35 production bores
5. The construction and management of a gas-fired power station at Wilga Park, including an upgrade of the station from 10MW to 40MW
6. The construction and operation of 1 reverse osmosis unit
7. The construction and management of 13 major water treatment dams/impoundments and numerous drill ponds
8. The discharge of treated produced water into the Bohena Ck, part of the Murray-Darling Basin.
9. The bull-dozing of numerous roads and tracks to facilitate the construction and operation of works listed above.
None of these activities, nor the whole action combined, has ever been referred to the Federal Government for consideration of the likely impacts on federally-listed species under the EPBC Act 1999. There is no Federal approval in place for the action.
The environmental impacts of these activities include: direct destruction of at least 150ha of native vegetation that is habitat for federally-listed species; heavy fragmentation of an area of 1,700 ha of native vegetation leading to the spread of invasive species; creation of artificial watering points at more than 13 different locations representing a risk to wildlife; introducing numerous sources of pollution through the use of chemicals and the handling and disposal of produced water; direct alteration of the ecology of a creek system for up to 22km; increased fire ignition sources and introduction of a flammable gas into an already fire prone environment; an overall disturbance footprint across 44,700ha of bushland.
Applying the Guidelines for Significant Impact, the report concludes that the impacts on federally-listed species are likely to be significant because of the intensity at which they have occurred, as well as:
- The extraordinary national and international conservation significance of the environment in which it is occurring;
- The sensitivity of the ecosystem given the scale of extinctions that have already occurred in the mammal fauna and the scale of decline now evident in the bird fauna;
- The substantial geographic area affected;
- The high cumulative impact in the context of other threats (other mining and gas developments, background clearing rates, climate change, invasive species, logging, and high intensity and frequent fires);
- The low level of confidence with which the impacts are understood; and
- the context in which it occurs of a heavily cleared and highly fragmented landscape with very low levels of reservation.
The measures put in place by Eastern Star Gas to avoid or mitigate impacts are inadequate to prevent such impacts, and their effectiveness is uncertain and not scientifically established.
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