Sunday, 16 April 2017

Santos in the Pilliga could mean light and fugitive emissions pollution for Siding Spring Observatory

The Santos Narrabri Gas Project Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) covering the Pilliga region is on public exhibition until 22 May 2017 and submissions can be made online by concerned individuals until then.



Santos plan to build an 850 coal seam gasfield near Siding Spring Observatory has been submitted to the NSW Govt. They plan to triple the amount of pilot flares and double the amount of huge flares, adding damaging light pollution to our region in defiance of the recent declaration of this area being Australia’s only Dark Sky Park recognised internationally.


Copy and paste this provided submission below to this link or write your own with the information provided.

This submission has been written to draw attention to the unacceptable impacts of Santos current plan with light pollution from their upcoming 850 gaswells and flares near Siding Spring Observatory. It is a simple solution, as recommended by the NSW EPA to enclose all flares, not just for emissions and cleaner burning, but also to reduce the amount of unnecessary light pollution from giant flames lighting the night sky.

Siding Spring Observatory is Australia’s only unique science research facility using the largest optical telescopes for astrophysics and astronomy. First established in Coonabarabran NSW, on the Warrumbungle Ranges in the 1960’s it was built here because of the dark skies in this region. While there is historic value of this site from telescopes established over 50 years ago, this observatory hosts the largest optical telescopes from national and international universities and research entities. Not only hosting the largest, this site hosts the second, third, fourth, fifth largest telescopes etc in Australia, playing a key role in science research across the Southern Hemisphere. Over 50 telescopes are listed across the site being used by over 30 universities, institutions and private businesses using cutting edge technology, with some of the most advanced telescopes being used is astrophysical research. Future plans include another 50 telescopes to be built on site within the next decade. All this is reliant on keeping the dark sky dark! If this area was to lose the dark sky, this observatory would not be replicated again in Australia, but moved elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere.

From 2013 onwards light emissions from the Santos gasfield exploration have increased to the point that, just the Bibblewindi large flare and unmanned facility alone, creates more light pollution than the entire town of nearby Coonabarabran with over 3500 people residing there. Santos have listed plans to triple the amount of pilot flares and double the amount of large flares including constructing 50 metre high flare stacks, with an average 30 metre high flame above it. Nowhere do they list the EPAs recommended practice to enclose flares, as has been done in NSW areas such as Gloucester. Enclosing flares is the only acceptable mitigation to protect the scientific community from the unnecessary light pollution they plan to emit. Siding Spring Observatory already has to deal with light pollution from existing mining and regional towns. Even Sydney itself, from over 400kms away can affect research from its light glow.

Santos are a lot closer than this. Every bit of extra light pollution is making it more difficult to continue the leading scientific research, and while each pollute in different levels, most consider they aren’t doing any damage. But it’s the combination with the existing light sources, adding a cumulative effect which is becoming worse as more pollution is created.

In summary, this is a simple fix in this case, as while Santos building infrastructure is willing to comply with shielded lights for buildings, they need to go a step further and enclose all current and future flares as the NSW EPA recommend. It is the only acceptable solution.


your name

Where to submit
(Click link then scroll to bottom)

Please copy and paste or add your own information. Privacy is an option if you do not want your name made public. Take this opportunity now to help protect Siding Spring Observatory. There will not be another chance.


People For The Plains

Siding Spring Observatory - A Priceless Resource Under Threat

Astronomers at Australia’s world-leading Siding Spring Observatory are becoming increasingly concerned about the potential threat to the observatory from adjacent coal seam gasfields. 

So much so that leading astronomers Robert McNaught and Malcolm Hartley have taken their protests directly to Santos.

Astronomer McNaught commented, “To put at risk the world class status of Siding Spring Observatory is both illogical and galling. It’s also infuriating that community concerns are being trampled upon by both government and industry.” 

The threat of light pollution from gas flares and infrastructure (expected to equal that of a reasonable sized town) and the increase of particulates in the air from flares, increased traffic on unsealed roads and clearing, has prompted the protest against Santos.

Other concerned astronomers and the community of Coonabarabran are united against coal seam gas (CSG) developments in the area.

The iconic observatory has been an important scientific tool and economic boon for the Coonabarabran area and Australia for over 50 years, with 30,000 visitors annually, many of them school children and family groups. About $5 million dollars is injected into the local economy each year.

The Federal Government has highlighted the protection of the observatory as one of the key areas it will be looking at in the Environmental Impact Statement of the Narrabri Gas Project, because of its importance to the regional economy and the national astronomy sector.

The site was chosen due to its high elevation, low humidity, non-turbulent atmosphere, clean air and clear night skies. These attributes bring astronomers from around the globe.

Siding Spring is the largest optical astronomy research centre in Australia, now with 47 Australian and international telescopes, and with more international and local research institutes looking to expand, including Japan and the US. 

More than $100 million worth of research equipment is located at the observatory.

Siding Spring employs many technical and maintenance staff, with around 40 living in Coonabarabran and another 50 (not including astronomers) living in Sydney and Canberra.

The observatory has been integral in the discovery of many comets, asteroids and galaxies and is renowned throughout the world.

Recent discoveries include the oldest known star, the largest comprehensive mapping of the universe in the world, and an intensive study of the closest known super nova.

The Siding Spring Observatory survived destruction during bushfires in 2013 and is now under threat by the proposed Santos coal seam gas developments in the Pilliga Forest and future expansion into other PELs including the Liverpool Plains and Coonabarabran itself.

The threat to Siding Spring Observatory is just one of many issues created by proposed Santos CSG developments that have led to community solidarity against Santos in Coonabarabran and opposition in the surrounding area.

The Guardian, 21 October 2014:

As well as light pollution, astronomers are concerned that material dispersed from mining operations will be corrosive to telescope lenses. Siding Spring has around 50 high-grade telescopes pointing at the heavens.

Peter Small, who provides technical support for Siding Spring, said an existing mining operation at Boggabri already gives off more light than the neighbouring towns of Narrabri and Gunnedah.

“We get light pollution from that – we even get light pollution from Sydney, which is 400km away, so you don’t have to be that close,” he said.

“This will reduce visibility. If there’s light pollution from anywhere, never mind about the gasfields, this site becomes unviable. It would shut down and all those local jobs would be lost.

Astronomers Malcolm Hartley and Robert McNaught

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