A northern rivers gasfield-free activist, who has been visiting AGL’s CSG exploration site at Gloucester says the company’s security guards have been using heavy-handed tactics to provide access for fracking equipment and Haliburton subcontractors.
Jo Evans, of Kyogle, is just back from the protest there, which she said is far more confrontational than anything that was seen during the Bentley protests.
‘I have a lot of video footage of what I would deem unreasonable force,’ Ms Evans told Echonetdaily this morning.
‘Sue Higginson of the EDO is viewing some of the footage.
‘I’ve seen people being crash tackled to the ground by security, held in neck locks, I’ve seen use of pressure points, a lot of pushing and shoving.’
She said that while the security guards ‘do have badges…they don’t have a company logo.’
‘Whenever we asked them who they worked for they just said to contact AGL.’
‘It never got to a confrontation at Bentley because the police had a hands-off approach and they were always talking to the organisers.
‘But it would appear that security and police are working together to make it very difficult for there to be a peaceful process [this time]. The police don’t want to see another Bentley.
‘Security are very heavy handed and the police have told me that security are allowed to use “reasonable force” but that’s a very grey area,’ Ms Evans said.
Twenty protesters are currently camped at Groundswell Gloucester’s protectors’ camp, which was approved by Gloucester Shire Council yesterday. More are expected over coming days at the camp, which has a capacity for 200.
Activists believe fracking finally began at the site on Monday, after a week of lock-ons and non-violent resistance slowed AGL’s progress.
The SMH reported yesterday that the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) appeared to have ignored its own protocols to approve fracking at the site before being provided with a full list of the chemicals to be used and independent verification that they wouldn’t adversely affect the environment.
Reporter Nicole Hasham yesterday revealed the NSW government approved AGL’s fracking work on August 6, despite officials not receiving the test results until more than two months later, on October 23.
A spokesman for resources minister Anthony Roberts told the paper that AGL was required to identify the chemicals to be used prior to approval being granted, but did not have to run tests on the chemicals before that date. The company was ‘compliant with its obligations’, he said.
But Groundswell Gloucester spokesperson Jennifer O’Neill attacked the move, which she described as ‘dodgy from start to finish and we have to ask now, what else has been missed?’
The group has called for work at the site to be suspended and for AGL’s application to be audited.
Ms Evans said she couldn’t understand ‘how the state government, which has put a halt on Metgasco, are allowing AGL to go ahead full bore’.
She described the approvals process as ‘mystifying’ .
‘Some activists who made it into the compound said the [fracking] chemical smell was very heavy – almost overwhelming. We have photos of some of the huge vats of hydrochloric acid. We have no idea what they are putting into the ground – AGL haven’t revealed that.’
SMH also published claims by that a security guard had had his head held under water by a protester.
‘In one incident a security guard fell into the river and a protester allegedly tried to hold his head under water,’ an AGL spokesperson said.
But Ms Evans said she believed the claims were ‘smear tactics’ being put about by the company and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA).
‘We had seven men who tried to find a way in at night. As for what happened down there, I haven’t seen any footage. Along with the claims we’re paying activists $150 and alleging we threw punches, which is totally against non-violent direct action principles, it’s just smear tactics. It did not happen.’
She is encouraging people considering making the trip to remember their own protection.
‘Take drinking water and sun protection. Be prepared for long days. It’s a very difficult site. Police don’t want you to stay overnight at the gate. We had one overnight vigil at the gate and the next morning the police came down really hard on the people who stayed.’
She added, ‘AGL have four wells here to frack, they have only just started on the first one so there is plenty of time to get prepared to resist the other three fracks.’
Details of how to get to the camp are posted on the Groundswell Gloucester Facebook page.