People for the Plains, represented by EDO NSW, is seeking an injunction in the NSW Land and Environment Court to prevent Santos from developing its 'Leewood' coal seam gas (CSG) wastewater treatment facility without first undertaking the proper planning and environmental assessment. The facility will be located near the Pilliga State Forest, near Narrabri in North-West NSW.
The Leewood facility will form one component of Santos's Narrabri Gas Project, and would treat over one million litres of toxic CSG wastewater each day.
In August 2015 the NSW Department of Industry approved the Leewood project through an amendment to the operational plan for Santos’ petroleum exploration in the area. People for the Plains argues that this approval is invalid because the Leewood project should have been assessed as an independent project, not as part of the company’s exploration work.
The Leewood project is best characterised as a water recycling or treatment facility, not a petroleum exploration project. Water treatment facilities need development consent under the Narrabri Local Environmental Plan (LEP). Santos avoided the need to obtain development consent by characterising the Leewood project as part of its broader petroleum exploration activities.
The development consent process for water treatment facilities is more rigorous and transparent than the process for petroleum exploration activities. It would require Santos to obtain an Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which would need to go on public exhibition for at least 30 days, giving the community a chance to have their say about the impacts of the proposal. It would also mean that, if the project is approved following this process, objectors would have the right to appeal this approval on the merits of the project in the Court.
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