Environmental groups and some MPs have pleaded with an independent planning body to oppose a controversial coal seam gas project after it was recommended for approval by the NSW government.
The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment on Friday recommended the Narrabri coal seam gas project be approved and referred it to the Independent Planning Commission for a final assessment.
Oil and gas giant Santos wants to develop the $3.6 billion project over 95,000 hectares in the Pilliga forest and nearby grazing land in the state's northwest.
It involves drilling 850 new gas wells over 20 years, with Santos saying it has the potential to satisfy up to half of NSW's natural gas demand.
The planning department found the project would not adversely affect the region's valuable groundwater resources and could be designed to minimise any impacts.
In recommending it for approval, the department added the project was "unlikely" to result in any significant impacts on the community or environment.
"The department has concluded the project is in the public interest and is approvable subject to strict conditions," the DPIE said in its report.
The conditions imposed include appointing the Environment Protection Authority as the lead regulator and obtaining separate water licences for all water taken.
During the assessment process, the government received nearly 23,000 submissions, with 98 per cent opposing the coal seam gas plan.
The DPIE said the submissions argued the development could damage the region, cause biodiversity impacts on the Pilliga forest, and generate substantial greenhouse gas emissions.
Narrabri farmer Stuart Murray on Friday described the development as "toxic" and raised concerns about potential water contamination.
Anti-coal group Lock the Gate Alliance was scathing of the DPIE's decision and called on the independent commission to reject the project.
"We're appealing to the IPC to ignore the political pressure and demonstrate its independence by refusing approval for this polluting project," spokeswoman Georgina Woods said in a statement.
The Nature Conservation Council argued groundwater and threatened species were at risk.
"Turning this priceless wilderness into an industrial gas field will poison groundwater, carve up the forest with roads and pipelines, endanger koalas and other threatened species, and increase the risk of wildfires," chief executive Chris Gambian said in a statement on Friday.
Federal Greens senator Larissa Waters argued Australia can't afford the "carbon bomb" from a new coal seam gas development during the climate crisis.
She said in a statement that renewables should instead be the government's focus for energy security.
NSW Independent MP Justin Field insisted the project shouldn't go ahead as it was an ecological and economic "disaster waiting to happen".
"For the NSW government to back this approval demonstrates how out of touch they are with what the public want to see for the future of this state in terms of renewable energy, and protecting our vital agricultural and natural resources," he said in a statement.
He too urged the IPC to oppose the development.
NSW Greens MP Abigail Boyd described the department's decision as a "slap in the face" and environmentally destructive.
But the state's peak business organisation, Business NSW, welcomed the DPIE's recommendation and argued the development was needed to secure gas supply.
"Without the Narrabri project coming on line, supply will just about disappear, costs will soar and businesses will be forced to close, meaning even more jobs will be lost in NSW," chief executive Stephen Cartwright said in a statement.
The project will go to the federal environment minister for approval after the IPC makes a decision.
Australian Associated Press