Major Santos CSG development may be halted by bug

A MICROSCOPIC bug may halt a major coal seam gas development in the Pilliga forest under new Commonwealth environmental powers, a hydro-ecologist says.

New laws passed just weeks ago make resource companies assess the impacts of CSG projects on ground water and aquifers.

As part of the new regulations, a microscopic stygofauna, found in aquifers in the region, may be protected from gas extraction.

Research by hydro-ecologist Dr Peter Serov, released in January, found the bugs in the aquifer, revealing what could be a new type of stygofauna found in New South Wales ground water.

But Santos, which has completed studies in the area, has found no such stygofauna.Dr Serov said the stygofauna, which act in ground water to purify the water like earthworms in soil, played a vital role in preserving water quality.

"The ability for groundwater to act as an indicator of environmental changes or impacts is probably exactly why the government and mining companies have not really considered it, as it will open a Pandora's Box for the management of our groundwater," he said.

"I have requested that Santos' plan for coal seam gas exploration in the Pilliga forest ... be denied as a matter of urgency pending further investigation into the groundwater dependent ecosystems."

Dr Serov said his research had found the risks to the stygofauna were "high", but the research conducted for Santos had not indicated the organisms were even present in the aquifers.

Santos public affairs manager Matthew Doman said studies completed in the area had not found any such stygofauna, and even if it was there, it would not affected by CSG operations.

While he said "the vast majority of cases" of CSG extraction had not affected groundwater, despite studies by the Queensland Water Commission showing some such interaction in Queensland wells.

Mr Doman said any impact would be negligible, as Santos capped and sealed every well with the highest integrity, to ensure there was no connectivity.

"We also ensure we monitor ground water impacts, and well integrity is at the highest level possible, so we take every measure to ensure there is no connectivity," he said.

He said while stygofauna was commonly found in aquifers, studies completed for Santos had not indicated any such organisms were present.

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