Consumers will foot protest bill of $100k a day, says Santos

SARAH-JANE TASKER
The Australian
February 15, 2014

SANTOS has warned that protests at its Narrabri Gas Project in NSW — where seven activists were arrested this week — are forcing delays and adding costs to its development that will eventually flow to the end user.

James Baulderstone, who heads up Santos’s East Coast business, said it cost $100,000 for each day the company was held back from working on the coal-seam gas project in the Pilliga state forest.

He said cost would be passed on to the consumer when the gas came on-stream in about three years.

On Thursday, about 100 protesters attended the site to voice concerns about the coal-seam gas project. The activity this week has seen about seven people arrested as the protesters blocked access roads to a coal-seam gas drill rig in an attempt to disrupt the company’s activities.

Tambar Springs farmer David Quince, who was on site, said the Santos workers had abandoned the site of the coal-seam gas water pipeline-laying operations when they knew there were about 100 people on their way to protest.

“Santos should abandon their plans for the Narrabri Gas Project and any other projects altogether,” he said.

Mr Baulderstone said while there were up to 20 permanent protesters camped in the forest, the numbers swelled when the anti-CSG groups wanted to make more noise.

“These people are diving under trucks, bolting themselves on, refusing to comply with police, they are taking the law into their own hands . . . that’s where these groups overstep the line,” he said.

The east coast boss said the company had lost a month’s work because of the protests but he added that given $1 billion was invested in the project, it wouldn’t stop the company. “What it does is adds to the cost base. At a loss of $100,000 a day, when I sell the gas in three years the consumer will have to pay for a portion of that,” he said.

Santos has received regulatory approvals for the project, which it says could supply 25 per cent of NSW’s gas requirements initially and up to 50 per cent across the longer term.

The company was last month fined $52,500 by the NSW Land and Environment Court for failing to report environmental damage to the Pilliga operations.

The company had faced nine charges relating to the spilling of large quantities of salty water in the Pilliga, operating a faulty water treatment plant and failing to report the incidents. The operations where the incidents occurred were owned by Eastern Star Gas, bought by Santos in a $924m deal in November 2011.

Mr Baulderstone said he supported a debate about the environment and protecting water but added that it was important not to lose sight of what the company did, which he said was to provide energy security.

“It’s about finding the middle ground, which isn’t doing everything everywhere, but neither is shut the gate and do nothing,” he said.

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