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Australia's Santos Narrabri gas project approval faces court challenge

MELBOURNE, Dec 23 (Reuters) - An Australian community group has launched a court challenge against Santos Ltd’s A$3.6 billion ($2.7 billion) Narrabri coal seam gas project, saying an independent panel that approved the development failed to consider its climate impacts.

The action was launched by the Environmental Defenders Office, a not-for-profit legal firm, on behalf of a group of 100 residents and farmers from the town of Mullaley, about 110 kilometres (68 miles) south of Narrabri in northern New South Wales (NSW).

The challenge said the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) had failed to look at the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from the project and the environmental effects of a gas pipeline needed for it to go ahead.

“For example, our client says that instead of looking at how the greenhouse gas emissions from the Narrabri Gas Project would contribute to global warming and worsening climate impacts, the IPC looked at whether gas has an emissions advantage over coal,” Environmental Defenders Office director Elaine Johnson said in a statement.

Santos declined to comment as the matter was before the courts.

The community group, calling itself the Mullaley Gas and Pipeline Accord, is asking the New South Wales Land and Environment Court to declare the approval for the Narrabri project invalid.

The IPC in September imposed strict conditions on a “phased” approval of the Narrabri project, after thousands of critics raised fears it would drain and contaminate groundwater, damage a nearby state forest and worsen climate change.

Santos has said it aims to make a final investment decision on the $650 million first phase of the project in the first half of 2023, after completing appraisal drilling at the site.

$1 = 1.3275 Australian dollars Reporting by Sonali Paul; editing by Richard Pullin

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