The Gomeroi people have been sidelined by a ruling that gives Santos the green light to proceed with its major coal seam gas project in Narrabri, overruling the traditional owners’ objections and concerns about the impact on the environment and the preservation of indigenous culture.
The National Native Title Tribunal on Monday ruled proposed mining leases should be granted for the Narrabri gas project. The project is planned to include 850 new gas wells across about 92,000 ha, including in the Pilliga state forest.
Planning approvals meant Santos was obliged to negotiate with the Gomeroi people for their approval, but after years of discussions the company sought a ruling from the tribunal.
A group of 19 Gomeroi people told the tribunal Santos did not negotiate in good faith. They claimed the project would have grave and irreversible consequences for the land, water and their culture. They had also made a climate change argument never before seen in a native title case, arguing the project would contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental harm and would therefore not be in the public interest.
“The tribunal does not doubt that the Gomeroi applicant’s concerns are genuine,” tribunal president John Dowsett said.
“However, the tribunal concluded that the Gomeroi applicant had failed to justify its assertions that the proposed grants would have such effect.”
The tribunal found the project’s public benefit outweighed their concerns.
The Gomeroi people made a Native Title claim on the area in 2011, but it is yet to be determined by the Federal Court. They are expected to appeal this Tribunal decision.
Santos can proceed on the condition that more cultural research is carried out before the next phase of the project.
The tribunal determined Santos’s multi-billion-dollar project to build up to 850 gas wells south-west of Narrabri in north-west New South Wales could go ahead with a condition, despite the Gomeroi people not consenting.
The condition requires Santos to take all necessary steps to ensure that additional cultural heritage research is done prior to the project’s next stage beginning.
The research would target places and values of particular traditional, anthropological, historical and contemporary significance to Aboriginal people.