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Rinehart gas project expansion sparks koala death fears

Koalas are facing "death by a thousand cuts" after more than 150 gas wells backed by mining billionaire Gina Rinehart gained approval, environment groups say.

Protesters are set to target Labor MPs after Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek gave the nod to Senex Energy's planned expansion of its Atlas project in southern Queensland.

Approval for the project's third stage allows the development of up to 151 coal seam gas wells on the Western Downs, northwest of Brisbane.

Gina Rinehart
A company co-owned by Gina Rinehart has been given the green light to expand a gas project. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS)

Senex Energy, which is co-owned by Mrs Rinehart, said the project would help supply much-needed natural gas to the country's east coast.

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Environment groups have slammed the move, saying the project's expansion at Wandoan threatens more than 500 hectares of koala habitat.

"Koalas face death by a thousand cuts," Lock the Gate Alliance's Ellen Roberts said.

"Tanya Plibersek is yet to fix Australia's broken environment laws and prevent further loss of koala habitat."

Ms Plibersek said one of the conditions for the project's approval was that koala breeding and foraging habitat must be protected.

"Our government's priority is to get more renewables approved and more renewables into our energy system," she said in parliament on Wednesday.

Sarah Hanson-Young
Sarah Hanson-Young says the project will kill koalas, waste water and fuel the climate crisis. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

"This project, like any large project in Australia, will be measured against the Safeguard Mechanism.

"The misinformation about koala habitat is absolutely wrong.

"One of the conditions of approval for this project is that koala breeding and foraging habitat must be protected."

Greens environment and water spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young said the project's approval would "kill koalas".

"Today Gina Rinehart is cheering the government's approval of 151 new gas wells," she said.

"This will kill koalas, waste billions of litres of water and fuel the climate crisis.

"The environment minister is backing more fossil fuels and more destruction."

Climate group 350 Australia said protests targeting Labor MPs' offices around Australia had been planned on Thursday, including Ms Plibersek's Sydney base from 10am.

Nine gas and five coal projects had been approved along with 10 oil and gas fields since the Albanese government came to office, 350 Australia's Kelly Albion said.

"The Albanese government can expect more and more protest and dismay from everyday Australians while they continue to back coal and gas corporations over the wellbeing of communities and the stability of ecosystems," she said.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has warned of the potential for gas supply shortfalls in eastern states in coming months following rising demand and outages at a Victorian plant.

The federal government unveiled its gas strategy in May, which called for new gas fields as part of the electricity system heading toward 2050.

The Queensland government this week awarded six new tenders for petroleum and gas exploration across the Bowen and Surat Basins.

One of them was earmarked for domestic gas supply.