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Byron Shire
May 10, 2021

Metgasco rejects farmers’ rights to say no

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92-year-old Kokoda veteran Bill Ryan, who was arrested this week at a protest at Whitehaven Coal operation near Boggabri, NSW. (AAP Image/Supplied by Leard State Forest, Greenpeace)
92-year-old Kokoda veteran Bill Ryan, who was arrested this week at a protest at the controversial Whitehaven Coal operation near Boggabri, NSW – see story below. (AAP Image/Supplied by Leard State Forest, Greenpeace)

Gas mining company Metgasco has thumbed its nose at farmers on the north coast by refusing to sign up to a deal recognising their rights to reject drilling on their properties.

Fairfax Media reported this morning that Metgasco had refused to rule out forcing itself onto private land in future.

The revelation is bound to incense anti-coal seam gas (CSG) campaigners on the northern rivers, who are preparing to disrupt Metgasco’s gas drilling operation at Bentley near Lismore, expected to start any day now.

Energy giants Santos and AGL and farming groups last week agreed to a deal, announced by the NSW government, recognising the right of landholders to reject or allow CSG exploration and production on their properties.

Fairfax Media reported that Metgasco was among a group of companies invited to take part in the deal; however, it and others declined to sign up.

Metgasco chief executive Peter Henderson told the media group that the present system ‘serves us well’.

Mr Henderson said the company had never forced its way onto land ‘and would never want to do that; we know we need community support’.

But when asked if he could rule out forced access in future, he replied, ‘We haven’t said absolutely never’.

NSW Farmers Association president Fiona Simpson said the agreement signed by Santos and AGL set clear standards and ‘all of the industry, whether it’s Metgasco or some of the smaller players, should also be signing up’.

The NSW Greens had proposed to the government that all gas drilling companies should be legally forced to take into account a landowner’s right to say no to drilling on their property.

But the government rejected it.

A spokesman for state resources minister Anthony Roberts instead urged other gas companies to ‘reach a similar understanding with their local communities for the benefit of everyone’.

Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham wrote to Mr Roberts last week asking him to enshrine the land access agreement in legislation, and extend it to all gas mining operators, including Metgasco.

In return, according to Fairfax Media, Mr Buckingham said the Greens would support a government bill that would overhaul the regulation of onshore petroleum operations that had stalled in the upper house last year after failing to win support.

Mr Roberts’s spokesman said resources below the ground belonged to the Crown and ‘legally enshrining a “right to say no” would effectively give landholders a level of ownership over those resources’.

Mr Buckingham said, ‘a handshake agreement is not good enough because people do not trust these coal seam gas companies’.

The agreement struck between farmers and Santos/AGL does not cover infrastructure such as pipelines, for which the government can still compulsorily acquire land.

Under current government rules for mining, farmers in NSW can refuse gas production on land used for crops, but companies can forcibly access other parts of the property.

Digger, 92, arrested

Legally blind 92-year-old Bill Ryan, who fought for Australia in World War II, has vowed to keep fighting for the environment despite being arrested and fined $350 for taking part in a NSW coal mine blockade this week.

The Kokoda Track veteran Mr Ryan was led away by police as dozens of protesters chained themselves to machinery at Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine on Monday, halting work for much of the day.

AAP reported that protesters oppose clearing part of the Leard State Forest to make way for the new $767 million mine, near Boggabri in the state’s northwest.

Mr Ryan, who lives in Sydney, says he won’t contest the fine and will pay the money out of his own pocket.

‘I’ll continue to protest for as long as I can walk,’ he told AAP.

‘After that, they’ll have to push me along in a wheelchair.’

The former soldier said it was the fourth time he’s taken part in a blockade at the Maules Creek mine.

He claims the burning of the coal from the mine will contribute to climate change.

‘I think it’s in the interest of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren; we’ve got to take a stand on this issue,’ he added.

Greenpeace said more than 150 people took part in Monday’s protest.

Police arrested 60 people, including an 84-year-old man, for trespassing and entering an enclosed area.

A 14-year-old girl, believed to be the youngest present, was given a warning by officers.

‘It was a non-violent protest. We arrived early and just basically sat on the machines,’ Greenpeace spokesman Julie Macken said.

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  1. How many farmers in the area have original titles to their land that include mineral rights? It was commonplace to issue land titles of this nature before 40 years ago. There would be many farms where the titles were passed down from the original stake. It would be in many’s best interest to check their titles to realise that they do have legal right to refuse CSG or any other mining claims by others.

    • Hi Kristian:
      Mineral rights belong to the state or federal governments. This has been the case since around 1851, and was formalised at federation (1901) Even prior to the 1850s, mineral rights excluded gold and silver, which belonged to the crown.

      Furthermore, governments have the right to force farmers / rural property owners off their land (with compensation) to access the minerals or petroleum in the ground. Many people are only realising this now that the gas industry want to frack up the whole country. According to research by Lock The Gate Alliance, the area of Australia with existing or approved coal or gas licenses is about 18 times the size of Great Britain.

      The exception is Aboriginal land, which is why the mining cos exert such pressure on traditional owners and also explains the federal court challenges brought by some indigenous land holders against mining companies.

  2. the CSG industry is a criminal enterprise and the willingness of police to protect such corporate corruption shows how truly dispicable the australian police force has become and how little regard australian police have for the well being of the people or for the state of this country..

  3. Australian Police Services are tasked to protect all persons on Australian soil. In particular the overall mission of the New South Wales Police Force is to protect life and property and to detect and prevent crime. They are being paid by us to do just that, no matter what side of the fence we align ourselves.

    My statement here is not pro or anti CSG industry. My support goes to the Police Officers who have a difficult job maintaining order so that people do not get injured. The Police do not have ‘a willingness to protect corporate corruption’. Don’t accuse them of political conspiracies. Show them some respect.

    Ex Firie.

  4. Section 91 of the Australian Constitution sets the bar for state rights to ownership of gold, silver and other metals and by implication, other resources. Kristian is right to observe that inter-generational freehold rights to royalties exist, but this extends only to properties that have it stated explicitly before the intervention of state governments (the 1920s in Queensland for example). The private ownership of resources (evident in some US states) presents the strongest argument FOR state ownership as (a) it deters non-productive land ‘banking’ based on resources potential (b) gives governments a financial incentive to impose and maintain universal conditions and (c) mitigates against the actions of private landholders negatively affecting neighbours without recourse (as we have seen with water shortages in west Texas).

  5. What sort of evil are these people from Metgasco. First they try to seduce our farmers with lies and treachery, then they make it clear that they’ll force their way in if farmers say no. Are they sociopaths or psychopaths? I get the terms mixed up.

  6. How stupid are Metgasco? Just when they had a chance to sideline all the people who don’t care about the environment, only their own landowner rights, Metgasco is so pig-headed they don’t take the opportunity. Peter Henderson is the best ally the anti-gas movement could have!

  7. if it comes to the worst the farmers should put In for mining rights to their own land and stop any mining company from entering their property, but l guess the gas companies have taken out the mining rights. Good on Bill Ryan what a hero.

  8. This laws are all over the world the same, but can be changed if there would be any political to do so.
    The destruction of environment, the pollution of the atmosphere the poisoning of water resources should be declared an criminal act and punished with death sentences.


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