Story and photo Melissa Hargraves
Residents around Bentley north of Casino, backed by anti-coal seam gas (CSG) ‘protectors’, are gearing up for the fight of their lives.
The community there is preparing for upcoming blockades against the proposed ‘conventional’ gas drilling site operated by coal-seam-gas miner Metgasco which longtime food producers say would have a disastrous impact on their business.
The locals also say the proposed site access off Bentley Road is dangerous with the entry point on a 100km speed zone just after a crest.
Over the weekend, men and women strapped on brush cutters and jumped on ride-on lawn mowers to prepare surrounding areas of the drilling site, which the miner calls Rosella E01, and is located 12km north-west of Casino.
The family of neighbouring property owner, David Scarrabelotti, has lived in the district since after World War 1.
He owns the Green Mountain group of companies that operate farming enterprises on the northern rivers and in the New England area with a meatworks in the Brisbane valley.
The Green Mountain group also export all around the world.
Mr Scarrabelotti told Echonetdaily the Rosella well site will directly impact his business.
‘Our property is downstream from the proposed drilling and there are a lot of unanswered questions in relation to the threat to the water table and the environment,’ he said.
‘This is a people area, we have houses around here, the noise and the visual impacts will also impact us all.’
Mr Scarrabelotti said there is no consultation from government or Metgasco.
‘Once something is at state level they seem to just push it through like we saw with the water sharing plan. They go through their process with you that is just quasi engaging, they do what they like,’ he said.
Mr Scarrabelotti travels around Queensland for business purposes and has seen firsthand the impacts of coal seam gas mining.
‘I fly over these gas fields and you only need to look out the window of the plane to see the mess that has been created at Chinchilla for miles around,’ he said.
‘I have also seen what the coal mining has done to the mountain when you fly from Moranbah to Rockhampton, it is a mess. The same at the Hunter in NSW, it is all a disaster.’
The ‘consultation’ from Metgasco was a letter to Mr Scarrabelotti with a CD that used the term ‘green extremists’ to describe the people opposing conventional gas mining.
‘So what I saw was that if somebody objects to what they are proposing they are a green extremist, we are from that,’ he said.
One of his business sites in Queensland has terminated its use of gas as a power source due to its high cost.
Mr Scarrabelotti believes the industry doesn’t offer any value to the Australian public at all.
‘They have delivered nothing to us within our business and they don’t appear to have a brief to do that. It wasn’t economical like they promise, the amount they were charging us was much higher than other sources of energy,’ he said.
Mr Scarrabelotti has observed the impacts to other regions from the mining industry and finds it hard to believe that the local area will benefit at all, particularly in the long term.
‘They will use minimum local contractors, you go to Roma, the average person can’t afford the rents, the people who do the ordinary jobs need to be driven in and driven out,’ he said.
Mr Scarrabelotti has experienced situations regularly near gas fields in Queensland where he has needed a motel and they have been completely booked out by the mining companies but the rooms had not been filled.
‘There is a lot of development in our business that we can’t do as you can’t secure accommodation,’ he said.
The Green Mountain group of companies operate within stringent environmental guidelines and with a big focus the public and multinational clients about where the food comes from.
‘From the point of view of food safety we have to operate to the highest possible standards at a very high cost. Over the last 10 years we have seen more and more awareness about the quality of food production,’ said Mr Scarrabelotti.
‘The mining industry don’t have the same level of stringency as us because they are not producing food for a start, they are a step back in the chain of where people are getting their food from.’
Three signs which opposed the drilling site were placed in Mr Scarrabelotti’s property and vandalised and stolen by trespassers.
‘I was within my rights to oppose the project next door, so I will be replacing them and hopefully find out who stole them,’ said Mr Scarrabelotti.
Mr Scarrabelotti said he keeps a very low profile when it comes to controversial issues but feels there has been inadequate consultation with the community whose majority oppose it.
‘It is time the government started listening to what the majority of people are saying,’ he said.
Kim Curtis has lived within a two kilometre radius of the Rosella E01 drilling site for ten years and was scared when she saw what was proposed for the site.
‘It is a big operation, they know there is gas here and they have big plans for this area, we have seen the devastation to other communities, we don’t want that here,’ Mrs Curtis said.
‘You don’t propose to pipe the gas to Queensland if there is only one little well.’
After hearing of Metgasco’s intention, Mrs Curtis informed herself through talking to people who have had this industry imposed on them.
‘These people are not lying or making it up, they thought it would be OK and now know that it isn’t,’ she said.
Mrs Curtis said her family is committed to opposing the industry that threatens their children future.
‘We will do our best, it is hard as we have jobs outside of our farms as well as children and looking after the farm, but we have a lot at stake so that is why we are here today,’ she said.
Glen Curtis owns Lismore Jade Enterprises and contributed labour and equipment to the working bee.
‘My brother’s place is just across from this proposed drilling site and I think it is dreadful what this industry is doing to the country, I encourage all businesses to do what they can,’ Mr Curtis said.
The main campsite for protectors is being set up on Bungabee Road off Bentley Road which will have a camp kitchen, cafe, information stall, composting toilets, hand basins, water, parking and camping.
Scott Sledge of the Northern Rivers Guardians (NRG) said the dangerous lack of visibility for the proposed road in both directions has a lot of locals concerned.
‘If they persist with that access it will take a lot of work to make it safe, there is no room for trucks to turn and trucks would not have enough time to cross with cars speeding at low visibility both ways,’ Mr Sledge said.
NRG member Daniele Voinot said the Bentley campsite would be more organised.
‘We had no warning with Glenugie and Doubtful Creek, but this time we do,’ she said.
Mr Sledge said the protectors had learnt from previous actions and Metgasco would have also.
‘They must succeed and we must stop them,’ he said.
Ms Voinot said the majority of neighbours are onside and have opened their farms up for campers.
To read the review of environmental factors for the Rosella E01 site at Bentley go to