Ancient organisms could stall Pilliga operations

ancientTHEY may be just 1mm long, but a group of ancient organisms could put the brakes on Santos’ massive CSG operation in the NSW Pilliga State Forest.
The presence of stygofauna could halt the company’s plans to drill 18 CSG wells in the Pilliga, as part of a $1 billion project to determine the commercial and technical viability of a gas project at the site.
The miniscule creatures live deep in underground water systems, filtering and determining the quality of groundwater.
Two unknown species were discovered underneath the project site by hydro-ecologist Dr Peter Serov, and new laws require Santos to prove the organisms would not be affected by the project.
Dr Serov’s evidence comprised just one of 1800 submissions to the Federal Government criticising Santos’ plan.
“These groundwater communities play a vital role in preserving water quality and many are very unique; many being restricted to only one aquifer and therefore occurring nowhere else in the world,” Dr Serov said.
Santos was required to submit a Water Resources Assessment after Independent MP Tony Windsor made changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act towards the end of June.
Mining and CSG companies can no longer continue with plans unless independent scientific advice determines they would not harm water resources.
Dr Serov described Santos’ plans to start drilling by September as “completely unacceptable”.
“This allows no time for scientific investigation, or examination of their claims, by the Independent Scientific Committee,” he said.
“Based on my research, the threat posed to stygofauna communities by proposed mining activities within the Pilliga forest area is considered to be high.”
The organisms in question are vulnerable to groundwater changes and mining activities, as they have adapted to their environment during many years. However, Santos groundwater expert Peter Hancock told the ABC they may not exist at the depth the CSG wells would be drilled.
“The deeper coal seam aquifers are unlikely to have stygofauna in them,” he said. “It’s the shallow alluvial aquifers that are most unlikely to have them.” A Santos spokesperson told The Age that it would be possible to move forward with production without disturbing the stygofauna by carefully drilling through to reach gas without allowing them to be contaminated by drilling residue or other aquifers.
The stygofauna challenge came on the back of mixed June quarter results for Santos, with a report revealing its 2013 production guidance had been downgraded by 1.5 million barrels of oil equivalent – despite a rise in sales revenue – due to operational problems and field decline.