03/01/2012: These documents reveal that the NSW Government has effectively handed over the Pilliga State Forest, one of our most precious publicly-owned natural assets, to coal seam gas miners...
Environment groups today released documents obtained under Freedom of Information which show that Eastern Star Gas (now Santos) have obtained a 30 year permit from the NSW Government to access the Pilliga State Forest, near Narrabri, for coal seam gas mining.
Documents include the Occupation Permit signed by Eastern Star Gas and Forests NSW in February 2011 which provides the company with access to the Pilliga State Forest, and the aggressive correspondence leading up to the signing of the permit.
“These documents reveal that the NSW Government has effectively handed over the Pilliga State Forest, one of our most precious publicly-owned natural assets, to coal seam gas miners until the year 2040” said Carmel Flint, spokesperson for the Northern Inland Council for the Environment.
“The occupation permit has been granted before Santos even has approval to produce gas commercially from the area. It pre-empts and therefore prejudices the proper legal processes that are required before an approval is granted under the planning laws.
“The Pilliga is a precious community asset but this occupation permit was signed behind closed doors without any opportunity for public comment.
“The NSW Government will receive $2,500 per gas well per year in the Pilliga which equates to 0.3% of the revenue Eastern Star Gas expect to get from each well.
“The correspondence obtained with the FOI shows that Eastern Star Gas went on a ruthless campaign to sideline Forests NSW and used heavy-handed legal threats to push their agenda whilst negotiating the permit. They appealed directly to the Crown Solicitor, the Minister for Primary Industries, and NSW Minerals and Energy, demanding that the fees sought by forestry be reduced.
“These documents provide a disturbing insight into the ruthless way coal seam gas companies do business” said Naomi Hogan, a campaigner for The Wilderness Society.
“Eastern Star Gas spoke at the Coal Seam Gas Senate Inquiry in Narrabri in August and stated they were not looking at chasing the land court option. Now, we see the coal seam gas company threatened arbitration at the first sign landholder negotiations were not going their way.
“If this is the way coal seam gas companies treat governments, then heaven help small landholders who are left to deal with them on their own.
“The legal status of the occupation permit now that Santos has acquired Eastern Star Gas is uncertain. We are calling on the NSW Government to scrap this flawed permit and to reclaim the Pilliga State Forest for the people of NSW.
 Eastern Star Gas advised the Senate Inquiry into Coal Seam Gas in the Murray-Darling that they expect revenue of $800,000 per year. See p63, http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/s193.pdf