Santos has been given the go ahead to drill eight exploration coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga Forest in north-west NSW.
The NSW government gave approval for the drilling in the woodlands in eastern Australia under stringent environmental conditions.
The approval was given in August but was revealed only in recent days, the SMH reported.
Santos also received approval for stage one of its water management venture.
A Santos spokesman said the company is looking to start drilling this year if it can gain state approval and federal approval from the new government under current environment laws.’
“It is also worth pointing out that there has been extensive groundwater modelling done that shows the proposed exploration program will have no significant impact on the groundwater sources in the region,” the spokesman said.
The company will adhere to the conditions put in place by the state government.
The company was also accused of failing to lodge environmental reports.
The allegations go back to 2011 when Santos was a shareholder of Eastern Star, a company it took over in November of the same year.
Now environmental groups like the Wilderness Society are asking how the government can give approval for the drilling when it is taking Santos to court this week over the 2011 incident.
It wanted drilling ceased at the site until the issue is resolved.
“Given their track record, Santos plans for 400 wells in the Pilliga Forest could turn the region into the biggest environmental disaster zone NSW has seen," The Wilderness Society’s campaign manager Naomi Hogan said.
"Santos has not shown they can fix the past damage, let alone start drilling and spilling again on a larger scale."
The NSW Environment Protection Authority is continuing its investigation into the leaking at a huge pond at the Bibblewindi water treatment works.
An NSW Trade & Investment spokesperson said the projects received approval on August 16 “subject to strict environmental reporting and monitoring conditions”.
“Before Santos can produce water from these wells they are required to lodge and have approved a produced water management plan,” the spokesperson said.
She added the company has to get the go-ahead to shift water through flow lines to its Leewood facility outside the Pilliga Forest before the wells begin producing water.
Hogan believes a more long lasting plan was required as the Leewood ponds presently function as evaporation sites.
“They have no clear plan for how they will handle the water when it gets to the ponds,” Hogan said.
She said water management proposals should be “on the public record” and be a “long-term scientifically researched outcome”, but it is not so here.