Energy Minister Chris Hartcher ignored his own departmental inquiry and renewed the exploration licences for the Coal Seam Gas industry in the iconic Pilliga Forest which are now the subject of legal action by the State Government.
It has tonight been revealed the Department of Trade & Investment has initiated prosecution action against Santos for breaches of the Petroleum Onshore Act in the Pilliga near Narrabri.
However, Mr Hartcher renewed the exploration licences for the Coal Seam Gas industry in the Pilliga before his own department’s investigation into alleged licence breaches – which led to the current prosecutions – concluded.
The Minister also claimed last year there were no ongoing issues regarding Santos and the Pilliga:
“They are not ongoing issues… therefore they do not need to be addressed in relation to the renewal because they relate to matters that happened historically.” (Chris Hartcher budget estimates 12 October 2012)
Yet a letter to Santos from the NSW Government’s Office of Coal Seam Gas dated 22 May 2013 raises concerns about a “suspected leak at the main holding pond at Bibblewindi”*.
"It is extraordinary the O'Farrell Government renewed Coal Seam Gas operation licences in the Pilliga Forest when investigations into serious breaches were not complete, and have now led to prosecutions,” Shadow Environment Minister, Luke Foley said.
"The Santos proposal for the Pilliga includes the sinking of 1100 wells, 1000 kilometres of road and pipelines and the fragmentation of 85,000 hectares of this precious woodland.
“The Santos licence was still renewed by Minister Hartcher, despite the NSW Resources and Energy website stating the continued tenure of a petroleum exploration licences is subject to compliance with agreed commitments and title conditions.
“The fact we now have the Government initiating prosecutions against Santos, despite the Minister renewing these licences only last year, confirms the O’Farrell Government was never serious about protecting our land and water from Coal Seam Gas activity.
"The Pilliga is one of 15 national biodiversity hotspots and is the largest temperate woodland left in Australia. It is also home to the largest koala population in western NSW.”
Energy Minister Chris Hartcher budget estimates transcript attached