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Byron Shire
August 5, 2021

Keep CSG exclusion zones, premier urged

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Metgasco's workover rig on the day of the explosion, showing the swivel and a portion of the ejected pipe. From the Mine Safety Investigation report. Photo Metgasco
Metgasco’s workover rig on the day of the explosion, showing the swivel and a portion of the ejected pipe. Photo Metgasco – from the Mine Safety Investigation report.

Chris Dobney

The state government has announced it has largely completed its mapping of residential areas that will be part of the two-kilometre exclusion zone around new coal seam gas activity.

Planning minister Brad Hazard told media it will include 95 per cent of dwellings in the state.

According to an ABC radio report, exclusion zones could incorporate not just towns and cities but some rural residential areas, including Goonengerry and Modanville in our region.

But the zone will not apply to licences that have already been issued.

Lock the Gate has called on the NSW government to stand firm on its exclusion zone plan following the NSW Mine Safety Investigation Unit report into the blowout at Metgasco’s Kingfisher well.

The report found that about 200 metres of steel drill pipe was forcibly ejected from a gas well because of ‘an unplanned release of gas at high pressure’.

It said that one of the drill pipes ‘was ejected over the drill pad fence into the neighbouring paddock’.

The report also stated that the workers running away from the blowout ‘saw sparks and a brief ignition of gas above the rig as the last of the pipes ejected from the well’.

Investigators concluded the risk the workers were exposed to was ‘very high’.

Lock the Gate spokesperson Carmel Flint argued the explosion was a case in point as to why the two-kilometre exclusion zone proposed by the state government should cover rural areas as well as metropolitan ones.

Ms Flint said the investigation into the accident exposed the ‘severe risks to workers, adjoining properties, and the environment from unconventional gas mining’.

‘It highlights just how important it is to have a large exclusion zone between gas wells and residential dwellings,’ she said.

‘This incident highlights just how foolish and dangerous it is for our governments to allow this industry to expand unfettered across closely settled areas, important farmlands and sensitive environments.’

She called on NSW premier Barry O’Farrell to ‘rise above the “drill at all costs” mentality of federal resources minister Ian Macfarlane and get on with the job of protecting the people and communities of NSW’.

However Metgasco chairman Nicholas Heath told Echonetdaily that incidents such as that at the Kingfisher well are ‘very rare’.

‘A company is not allowed to drill unless at least 200 metres from a dwelling. This separation distance is similar to other industries that can present far greater exposures.’

He added that there was ‘no scientific basis’ for the two-kilometre exclusion zone.

‘To use this incident at Kingfisher as justification for the two-kilometre zone is to misunderstand the realities and the standards that already exist to cover such matters.’

But Ms Flint countered that, ‘the failure in integrity of this gas well after only such a short time in operation raises the spectre of massive problems in the future if thousands of gas wells are approved across the countryside’.

Compensation inadequate

Meanwhile Lock the Tweed spokesperson Michael McNamara has backed comments by Professor John Sheehan of the Australian Property Institute who, in a recently published submission, said that CSG companies do not pay adequate compensation to farmers for the use of their land.

In his in his submission to Just Terms review Professor Sheehan compared compensation paid under the provisions of the Section 107 of the Petroleum (Onshore) Act to Section 55 of the Land Acquisition Just Terms Compensation Act, under which the RTA operate.

Professor Sheehan said that only the actual footprint of the wells, roadways, pipelines and equipment is counted in the compensation framework and not the whole acreage affected by mining work, unlike the RTA model.

Mr Heath said, ‘Metgasco’s experience is that the compensation we provide compares well with the compensation offered by the RTA’.

‘In our experience the amount of land that is fenced off around a well site is quite small in relation to the paddock in which we have sited our well and the farmer can graze livestock right up to the edge of our enclosed site,’ he added.

But Mr McNamara has challenged this position, saying that while the amount of land fenced off for each well ‘may be quite small compared to the overall size of a property, it is the digging of multiple wells and then connecting them with pipes and roads that can have a major impact on the commercial viability of a farm’.

‘Metgasco have previously claimed that the “footprint” of their operations is only two per cent of the property. While this may be so, it is a misleading statement,’ Mr McNamara told Echonetdaily.

‘Once the wells are linked up with pipes and roads it is like laying a lace tablecloth over the land. This interruption of internal continuity of fields for cultivation and grazing opportunities can make it difficult, if not impossible, to conduct the normal operations of the enterprise. Add to that the many truck movements each day, as well as the noise, dust and light and you have a major impact from gasfield operations,’ he said.

‘As for the levels of compensation paid by Metgasco – who would know? They don’t publish this information.

‘If I have to choose between Mr Heath’s opinion of the adequacy of compensation and that of Professor Sheehan, an eminent and very experienced valuer, then I think I would have to accept Professor Sheehan’s view.’

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  1. This Nick Heath man makes me wilder than Peter Henderson does. He should be moved into a house 200 metres away from one of Metgasco’s dodgy gas well sites and monitored to check how his quality of life is affected by the process. Tell him not to have any sick or elderly relatives over to visit because fire in the sky and steel pipes flying after being accidentally forcibly ejected tends to give them heart failure.

    Are these Metgasco people actually living on the same planet as us?


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