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.