Anti-coal seam gas activist and member of the Gamilaraay nation, Daniel Kinchella says coal seam gas mining in the Hunter region is “an attempt at genocide to [the Gamilaraay] people.”
Coal Seam Gas company Santos is seeking approval from the NSW government to build 850 coal seam gas wells on 425 sites in the Pillaga region. Santos claim the Narribri Gas Project may provide up to 50% of NSW’s natural gas needs.
But Indigenous activists are worried about the potential for pollution in key waterways. A leak from any of these mines would directly impact the lives of the Gamilaraay people whose nation the Pillaga falls right in the center of.
“They’re killing our fish and they’re killing our people, because people swim in those rivers”, says Kinchella.
“The colonisation process for our people has been devastating, this is just another process within that, [which] will certainly make our people have to move off country” adds Raymond Weatherall, also a member of the Gamilaraay nation, “we rely on our water every day of the week”.
An environmental impact statement commissioned by Santos claims that the project project will not create any threats to aboriginal cultural heritage that don’t already exist. The report also claims that further damage can be prevented by simply “avoiding” culturally significant sites.
Santos’s impact statement concluded that the project can be worked on safely with “minimal and manageable risk to the environment.”
This comes only three years after reports that a leak from one of Santos’ waste ponds had poisoned an aquifer in the same region. Uranium levels were recorded at up to 20 times higher than what is considered to be safely drinkable.
For this, Santos was fined $1500 by the Environmental Protection Agency, which Kinchella describes as “a slap on the wrist”.
Community support in the fight against coal seam gas mining
Last month protesters and activists, including Kinchella and Weatherall, attended the March in March at Belmore Park in Sydney to raise public awareness about this issue as well as a variety of others.
95 year old veteran, Bill Ryan, also attended the rally representing a group called Knitting Nannas Against Gas and Greed, though he doesn’t knit himself.
“I fought in World War II and was in the Kokoda campaign,” Bill says, “So I think if we had to fight then to save Australia we’ve gotta fight now to save the land.”
The Department of Planning is currently seeking feedback from the public about the proposal, with submissions closing on the 24th of April.
In a media statement Director of Resource Assessments, Mike Young encourages contribution from all stakeholders, “we want to hear people’s views – farmers, landholders, locals, Aboriginal groups, industry groups, councils.”
The activists hope that by attending the rally they’ll put this issue in the spotlight.
“I’m hoping that the masses can understand this no good atrocity and how it’s affecting the planet not just our nation.” says Kinchella.
They believe that with different groups coming together, and more public awareness about the issue, they’ll push the government to change their policies.
“We know that we have to work in unity with other people, because there’s two types of evil here- we’re working against the government and mining companies” Weatherall claims.
“The people are with us.” says Ryan “What we’ve gotta get through are the politicians and the people behind the politicians”