Researchers fear Santos gas exploration could affect ‘life-saving’ koala study

Researchers testing a potentially game-changing chlamydia vaccine for koalas fear their results could be compromised if a gas company is allowed to explore the area.

Santos, the company behind the Narrabri gas project, holds oil exploration licenses in the plains near Liverpool in northwestern New South Wales.

He asked to undertake seismic testing, which uses reflected sound waves to map the structure of rocks beneath the ground.

University of Sydney researcher Valentina Mella said the vaccine trial had “saved lives”.

Dr Mella said 46 of the 50 koalas in the study lived in areas that Santos had set aside for seismic testing.

“There are no studies that really show whether these types of surveys can affect koalas,” Dr. Mella said.

She said she was very concerned about the potential of seismic shocks to induce a stress response.

“Any type of interference that is unnatural can affect results,” Dr. Mella said.

“We don’t know how stress affects immune responses.”

A potential rebound

Dr Mella said the vaccine could be a turning point for koala survival.

“Once these animals are sterile, they don’t produce any more offspring, and that’s it,” she said.

Valentina Mella and Rob Frend have worked on koala issues for over a decade.(Provided)

Gunnedah farmer and koala advocate Rob Frend said chlamydia was a major driver of extinction among locals.

He said seismic testing was an intrusion they could do without.

“It’s another foreign intervention,” Mr Frend said.

“It may be completely harmless, but you can’t be absolute about these things.”

He urged the company to prioritize the local environment in all activity.

“If Santos management doesn’t listen to the farmers, maybe the shareholders will,” Frend said.

Application under review

In a statement, the NSW Resources Regulator confirmed it had received a request from Santos to conduct a seismic survey.

“The regulator will consider consideration of environmental factors as part of its assessment,” said chief executive Peter Day.

A Santos spokesperson told the ABC that the company did not expect its tests to have any effects on local wildlife.

“The seismic surveys are low-impact and non-intrusive,” they said in a statement.

The company said it appreciates the importance of the vaccine trial.

“Santos … will conduct our business in a way that does not endanger research or koalas,” the spokesperson said.

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