Narrabri – gasfields, renewables, distillery and rock

Narrabri, located in Gomeroi Country, is a town divided by Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project. Business owners who stand to benefit financially from the project support it, while people operating long standing enterprises reliant on clean water are strongly against it. Others are too frightened to have an opinion because they, or a member of their family, may lose their job.

Santos has received conditional approval from the NSW and Federal governments to drill 850 coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga State Forest and on private properties. Coal seam gas is mostly methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. Wells and other associated infrastructure are known to leak.

The drilling process also releases naturally occurring toxic chemicals from within the coal seams. These are brought to the surface along with lots of very salty water. The likelihood of spillage and the unknown method and location for disposal of this toxic waste is one of the many reasons why this project should be stopped.

Meanwhile, Geni Energy, a locally run and owned renewable energy company, offers an alternative to gas. Their shop was the first stop in Narrabri for the visiting Sydney Knitting Nannas and Friends. Sally Hunter explained how the company is transitioning NSW’s northwest to a renewable future with customised solar and battery systems. The long term plan is for the Geni.Energy Virtual Power Plant to provide power to the community from solar farms, wind farms, hundreds of homes with rooftop solar and batteries, and other types of renewable generation.

Not far down the main street Santos’ shopfront is unattended, making it easy for Nannas to get the obligatory photo.

Nannas, new to the area, went for a short tour of the gasfields in the Pilliga State Forest. Huge road trains thunder down the mostly one lane Newell Highway which has a speed limit of 110 kilometres per hour.

To discourage visitors from wandering into the Pilliga Forest, the local forestry road signs become smaller and are placed very low so they’re hard to see.

These signs, along with government permission granted for Santos to lock many gates on roads within the forest, indicate that the public is not wanted on what is supposed to be public land. In the past, problems in the Pilliga were first reported by the public not by gas companies or their contractors.

The sandy roads within the forest had recently been graded but we saw no vehicles or signs of activity, no noise, no flares. Everything looked clean and tidy. People in the gas industry joke about this being a boutique gas field as no other gas field looks like this. We concluded government or finance VIPs were about to visit or had been there recently.

On the old spill sites lots of new plantings were surrounded by plastic guards. When these spills first occurred, gypsum and sulphur were thrown around in an attempt to rehabilitate the soil – gypsum to break up the hard soils where the trapped salts were located, and sulphur brought the pH back from alkaline towards acid.

Santos have spent millions of dollars over ten years in an attempt to rehabilitate these sites. Eucalyptus, some planted, some seeded naturally, have returned along with bull oak but when their roots get to a certain depth, they often die. Some tree species, like Cypress pine, do not grow on spill sites.

Irrigation systems diluted the salt and spread the salt beyond the initial spill survey pegs. Unfortunately, despite Santos’ millions, we could clearly see that spill sites are still growing, possibly due to the recent large falls of rain.

Sitting in the shade of a tree in Bohena Creek, the Nannas had a lovely picnic lunch. Rivers and creeks in this area are called upside down rivers by First Nations people because they flow beneath the sand except after heavy rain. During a flood, Santos is expected to flush unwanted treated water into this creek.

A black snake crossed the road on our way to the gasfields so some Nannas decided this was a sign to visit to the Black Snake Distillery, 10km from Narrabri on Kaputar Road. This craft distillery uses renewable energy to produce Pure Gin and Agave spirit (ASp) usually made with wild, locally grown Agave americana. After this plant was pointed out to us, we kept seeing it in many gardens in the area.

Nannas who had been to the gasfields on many occasions, decided to visit the local tourist attractions instead. A native fish feeding tour at the Narrabri Fish Farm located 12km from Narrabri was recommended and did not disappoint them. This is one of many established enterprises in the area that will be devastated if their bore water is contaminated by Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project. Read more here.

Some Nannas set off to see Sawn Rocks, 38 kms from Narrabri and variously described in the tour guides as spectacular rock formations, a unique geological site, organ pipes and reminders of the region’s volcanic past. Worth a look then!

The rock formation on the high cliff face is indeed spectacular. The formation occurred millions of years ago when the Nandewar volcano was in its final cooling down. The lava turned to basalt and cracked vertically into hexagonal patterns as it cooled. And yes, you could see the cliff face as gigantic organ pipes. Many of the hexagons have sheared off and now rest in piles in the creek and rock pools below. There’s a short easy walk to a viewing area, and then it’s a bit steep to go for a walk around the creek and see the rock hexagons up close.

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