Narrabri Gas Project

Today I speak to a petition from a remarkable bunch of people, the Knitting Nannas. They are women who care earnestly and deeply about our environment, the future of this beautiful planet that we live on and the future of our children and our grandchildren. That is something I hope we will all agree is of utmost importance. The Knitting Nannas have collected 11,338 signatories to this petition. The citizens of New South Wales have brought to our attention the potential for the Narrabri gas project to produce significant pollution to air, soil and water systems, including the Great Artesian Basin.

I acknowledge in particular the work of Kathy McKenitzie, Robin Murray, Marie Flood, Bronwyn Vost and Gill Burrows—Knitting Nannas from the Northern Rivers, Blue Mountains and across New South Wales. I thank and acknowledge all those who signed the position, who live well beyond this Chamber, and particularly those who live within the vicinity of Narrabri.

I will start by referring to one of the signatories. The words of Coonamble farmer Anne Kennedy offer a sobering insight. She said, "During the height of the drought there were towns that relied on nothing but bore water for months. It really drives home how important it is that we protect our groundwater. If Santos' planned gas field goes ahead, its impacts on underground water resources, upon which our communities depend, will last for centuries. If we lose the groundwater, we have no other water here. This is such a scary thought because so many properties would be simply uninhabitable." My colleagues will speak to the Chief Scientist's recommendations and to energy pricing and supply issues. I am going to speak briefly to climate change.

Earlier this year we watched, heartbroken, as much of our State battled horrific bushfires. On the back of drought, we experienced more devastation. We watched as our emergency services workers risked their lives to save others, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, leaving grief-stricken loved ones behind. We watched millions of hectares of bushland burn and we looked on in horror as many communities fought to save their businesses and homes. We watched billions of native animals perish, helpless to escape the fury of our blackest of summers. We pulled together as a nation then. All across the country conversations were laden with the topic of climate change. How can we do better? How can we make the changes needed to protect and preserve our environment and water in the future?

One point raised around this Narrabri Gas Project involves the myth that coal seam gas [CSG] is a transition fuel between coal and renewables. Let me address that for a moment. Coal seam gas is mostly methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane is unavoidably lost to the atmosphere as fugitive emissions when coal seams are disturbed by gas extraction. Over 20 years, methane has a global warming potential that is 84 to 87 times greater than carbon dioxide. Let us all contemplate that. There has been limited research in this field, primarily overseen and funded by the companies that have a vested interest in the apparent findings of this research. More extensive research is needed. Our underground water sources are precious. A guarantee of the integrity of aquifers and groundwater is no trifling matter, nor is the volume of water used in the exploration process. Can we honestly spare this immensely valuable resource to such an extent?

In 2014 both the Government and Labor committed to the building of a regulatory framework specific to the mining of unconventional gas. Within an ABC New England story on 5 June 2020 and in a presentation to the Independent Planning Commission [IPC] recently, Coonamble stock and station agent David Chadwick said, "We live on the Artesian Basin; we understand the risk that this imposes, and it is totally unacceptable." I also urge everyone to listen to Mr Chadwick's presentation to the IPC. The story also noted:

The former Chief Scientist of NSW, Professor Mary O'Kane AC, made 16 recommendations to the government in 2014 on how to mitigate the risks of the coal seam gas industry.

A parliamentary inquiry earlier this year revealed just two of those had been fully implemented.

The environment Minister has spoken about the need for the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer's recommendations to be implemented in full. My colleagues here will speak more to the issue of these recommendations. They are critical to the assessment of the Narrabri Gas Project. The widely held view on this project, one shared by groups as diverse as NSW Farmers and the Country Women's Association, is that there should not be CSG exploration or extraction in the Pilliga. The risk to groundwater coupled with other environmental risks in this sensitive ecological area is real and the basis of this petition. If the past difficult months have taught us anything, surely it is that life can be unpredictable and uncertain. COVID has shown us that we are not indestructible and we are not always in control of how things unfold. Another farmer's voice, Mark Robinson from Narrabri, said:

We're farmers trying to do the best we can to feed everyone and we're getting overrun by a mining company that will render our farms utterly useless. The fact is, this is environmental destruction at a most basic level.