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Astronomers aggrieved by light pollution from CBM sites

World Coal,

Astronomers at the Siding Spring observatory in Australia have warned light pollution from a planned coalbed methane (CBM) development may force the observatory to close.

Siding Spring is the country’s premier observatory. The site of the Australian National University’s observatory, near Coonabarabran in New South Wales (NSW), currently benefits from clear, dark skies above it.

This environment allowed the observatory’s powerful SkyMapper telescope to discover the oldest known star, at 13.6 billion years old, in 2014.

Yet astronomers have voiced concern that CBM developments at gasfields around 50 km away could produce so much light pollution the observatory is rendered useless.

Dark skies are vital if astronomers are to pick out stars and other celestial objects in space.

Mining firm, Santos, plans to tap the area, known as the Gunnedah Basin, for gas sourced in coal seams.

Astronomers are also worried that material dispersed from CBM mining operations will prove corrosive to telescope lenses.

Peter Small, a technical support engineer for Siding Spring, said an existing CBM operation at Boggabri already gives off more light than the neighbouring towns of Narrabri and Gunnedah.

“We get light pollution from that – we even get light pollution from Sydney, which is 400km away, so you don’t have to be that close,” he said.

“This will reduce visibility. If there’s light pollution from anywhere, never mind about the gasfields, this site becomes unviable. It would shut down and all those local jobs would be lost,” he added. “I’d hope there would be a compromise, but no dialogue has taken place with Santos as yet.”

Observatory staff want Santos to commit to burning off gas, called flaring, during the day, rather than light up the night’s sky with flames.

Santos said it is currently putting together an environmental impact statement (EIS) that will identify all potential effects of its coal seam gas expansion.

“We appreciate the Siding Spring community has some concerns, however, when the EIS is public all interested parties will have the opportunity to review and assess the actual impacts rather than speculate on potential impacts,” a Santos spokeswoman said.

“As part of the EIS process, consultation will take place and the public will have the opportunity to review the document and present formal submissions to the government,” she added. “Santos is committed to ongoing communication and engagement with the community and is always available to meet with interested parties and address their concerns.”

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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