Features, Oil & Gas Leaks

Santos gasfield is a public health hazard

The QGC/Shell Argyle flare lights up the CSG compression station in south-west Queensland. Image by North West Protection Advocacy

Fossil Fool Bulletin • 4 February 2020

Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project (NGP) is a highly-opposed plan to introduce coal seam gas (CSG) mining  to North Western New South Wales, starting in the Pilliga State Forest and fanning out to 7% of the State.

PM Scott Morrison announced last Friday a $3 billion deal tied to procuring 70 Petajoules of gas from the NGP. Detail is scant but the intention is clear, to obligate Berejiklian government to approve NGP thereby creating a trojan horse for expansive gasfields in the Liverpool Plains, the most productive farmland in Australia and causing a Public Health issue that’s going unaddressed says North West Protection Advocacy.

Industry poses health risks

Among the list of concerns expressed by communities, stakeholders and experts are the public health risks posed by the unconventional gas industry, as witnessed in Queensland where the industry has operated for 11 years. The lack of a Health Impact Assessment of the industry is just one of several key deficiencies in the Environmental Impact Assessment.

The NSW Ministry of Health has abdicated its responsibility for public health and medical research to the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and an industry body called the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA).

A GISERA study with a short title of “Potential health impacts from CSG”, has a proposed end date of June 2020, which will be after the NSW government makes a decision on the Narrabri Gas Project. Adding to community concerns is the fact that the project leader of the study is not a medical researcher, epidemiologist, or a medical doctor. Dr Cameron Huddlestone-Holmes is a geologist from CSIRO Energy, an expert in environmental, geological and geotechnical problems primarily in unconventional gas and coal. Getting a Geologist to conduct a Health Impact Assessment is like employing a General Practitioner to assess Petroleum Deposits.

Real impacts won’t be assessed

Adopting Prime Minister Morrison’s approach that young Australians should be protected from needless “anxiety” created by the climate emergency, Dr Huddlestone-Holmes’ GISERA’s health study will focus on how to “reassure” the public of the safety of the coal seam gas industry rather than assessing its impacts.

NSW Health objects to conducting a Health Impact Assessment of the Narrabri Gas Project because it says there are too many “confounding factors” that also affect public health in the affected communities. However, confounding factors exist in every field of epidemiological research, and this should not be used as an excuse to avoid a Health Impact Assessment. 

Narrabri Gas Project is years behind schedule and still not approved. The assessment of the project has been held up by Santos not providing information requested by government agencies, including gas composition data called for by the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

However, the process is expected to move on soon to the next stage, an Independent Planning Commission public hearing could now be announced any day.

You can read the Public Health Communiqúe here

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