X Line Road – Bibblewindi Gas Wells
Turn off the Newell Highway into X Line Road. Then turn left into Blue Nobby Road and follow along until gas wells can be seen. Note the area cleared for gas wells in the Pilliga Forest is much larger than in Camden or Chinchilla. This is due to the threat of bush fires which are prevalent in the forest during the hot dry summers. Retrace your tracks to the Newell Highway. It is easy to get lost here.
Plumb Road – Bohena 7 Spill Site
Turn off the Newell Highway into Plumb Road (just past the 30km to Narrabri sign (N30) or 3.8km south of Old Mill Road) and immediately park the car on the side of the road. (You can drive to the spill site but you will have to reverse back out.) Follow the track to the right (going south) running close and parallel to the Highway, until on your left through the trees you see an area where many logs lie on the ground and the trees are very sparse.
In an attempt to rehabilitate the site, Santos spread gypsum and sulphur around the area. Thick irrigation hoses snaked around this area to dilute the salt and flushed it down to creeks and possibly into the Great Artesian Basin, spreading the salt well beyond the initial spill. The gypsum broke up the salt and helped it float away, and the sulphur brought the pH back from alkaline towards acid. The spill area was later covered with woodchip, supposedly from local native trees.
Continue south within the spill site until you come to a fence and the source of the spill, an unlined evaporation pond which has since been filled in. An area of approximately 500 x 200m was devastated by this spill of waste water in 2006. Evaporation ponds are now banned but ponds such as those at Leewood are still being built to store waste water.
Leewood Waste Water Facility
The Leewood Waste Water Facility, situated on land privately owned by Santos, is approximately 24km from Narrabri on the western side of the Newell Highway. This is where Santos plans to build a gas recovery, water treatment and distribution centre for the coal seam gas mining in The Pilliga State Forest.
Turn into Old Mill Road (some maps refer to this as Dog Proof Fence Road). Leewood is on your right. A Santos vehicle may follow you along this road or from inside the fence. If you stop and the driver can see your vehicle’s registration, it may be noted. If you step out of your car you may be photographed or filmed. Old Mill Road is a public road and all around, except the fenced area, is the Pilliga Forest, so you are not trespassing.
Two gateways give a better view of a reverse osmosis plant being built to treat the salty water. The disposal of this water and the remaining toxic sludge is of grave concern to protectors of the Great Artesian Basin. The reverse osmosis plant is currently subject to a legal challenge by People of the Plains.
A walking track goes between the two gates alongside the NSW heritage listed Dog Proof Fence, which runs parallel to Santos’ fence. The Dog Proof Fence was constructed by landowners to keep their sheep safe from dingoes living in the forest. The second gate has been the scene of many actions and protests. During the day, forest protectors may sit outside this gate, watching truck movements and distributing information to tourists.
Just north of Old Mill Road on the Newell Highway you can pull over on the side of the highway. If you have good eyesight you may get an idea of the scale of this project. Two 300 mega litre ponds divided into two cells were completed by Santos in October 2014. Look for the banks of these huge lined ponds holding the salty water mixed with other chemicals brought to the surface before extracting the gas. This water sits in these ponds waiting to be treated by the new reverse osmosis plant. Sometimes it mysteriously disappears.