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WIDE BAY BURNETT CSG THE FUTURE

 

Looking at an aerial map of western Queensland, the landscape is dotted with wells reaching down to the Great Artesian Basin.

Every day, more wells are sunk, drilling to coal seams below the aquifer and sucking gas back up to the ponds hundreds of metres above.

The extraction of the resource – if you read the legislation – is for the betterment of the people of Queensland.

And it is boom time for mining companies, the thousands they employ in the gas fields and surrounding communities, and for the State Government who laps up the royalties.

The landholders whose properties the wells are sunk on are also paid for their trouble, but they say they have no way of knowing if they are being compensated properly because they are gagged by confidentiality clauses.

A Senate inquiry into the CSG industry was told earlier this year that some compensation packages can vary from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars for different landholders.

We’ve got no choice to say no to the industry but then we’re also held accountable to be quiet and not talk about it and I don’t think that’s right.

Landholder Katie Lloyd

Under the land access code, resource companies and landholders are required to keep information about each party confidential, but the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) says that after a number of complaints, landholders can now have the confidentiality clauses waived.

There are 18 coal seam gas wells on Katie Lloyd and her husband’s grazing and farming property, 30 kilometres south-west of Chinchilla, on the Darling Downs.

Ms Lloyd says Origin, Queensland Gas Company (QGC) and an unknown third company have tenure over their property and there could be up to 25 more wells put in.

“We’ve got no choice to say no to the industry, but then we’re also held accountable to be quiet and not talk about it, and I don’t think that’s right,” she said.

‘No choice’

Ms Lloyd says her parents-in-law signed a confidentiality clause when they signed a compensation agreement for the property in 2008, back when coal seam gas wasn’t the hot issue it is today.

“They certainly described it as if they felt they had a gun to their head,” she said.

“They had no choice. It had gotten to a point that they felt they had to sign.

“I know the company had time constraints, they needed to get going, there was that looming threat of land court, so they [Ms Lloyd’s parents-in-law] certainly described it as a pretty horrid experience and they felt they had little choice at the end but to proceed.”

The Lloyds are now bound by that agreement for the life of the wells on their property.

Ms Lloyd says they are battling to get parts of the agreement revised because they don’t feel they are being compensated enough.

She says they are concerned the value of their property has dropped since the wells were sunk.

They have problems getting machinery around the wells and other mining infrastructure, which can be as big as 100 square metres.

Ms Lloyd says on top of that, the introduction of the wells has meant a lifestyle change.

“We’ve constantly got people coming onto the property at any given time, and so a lot of the lifestyle considerations aren’t incorporated into that compensation agreement,” she said.

Ms Lloyd says miners are using confidentiality clauses to their advantage and farmers desperately want a benchmark set for payments.

“I’m sure that [resource companies] use it as a bit of a carrot for themselves just to get them in. I think it’s just so critically unfair to the landholder to lock them in and gag them.”

But APPEA says farmers are not given extra compensation to have confidentiality clauses included in their agreements.

There are two industries trying to coexist in the same space and that same landscape. We need to make sure that no one of those industries is going to exist at the expense of the other.

AgForce’s Kate Dunn

AgForce Queensland runs information sessions for landholders in the Surat, Galilee and Bowen Basins. The meetings are designed to explain to farmers their rights and obligations when dealing with CSG companies.

Kate Dunn, AgForce’s CSG project manager, says it is a huge task for landholders to nut out a fair deal with mining companies.

“To be honest, landholders have a lot of work to do when it comes to preparing to negotiate with these companies,” she said.

“They really need to have time on their side and they need to start gathering their info as soon as possible.”

A coal seam gas well Photo: A coal seam gas well is sunk in the Surat Basin in central Queensland. (file photo: Gas Today)

Ms Dunn says most landholders are wary of coal seam gas companies.

“Basically they understand that there are two industries trying to coexist in the same space and that same landscape, and while the agricultural industry is endeavouring to make sure that there’s a good balance, and I guess the gas industry as well, we need to make sure that no one of those industries is going to exist at the expense of the other,” she said.

But Ms Dunn says balancing the industries is only possible if landholders know their rights.

“In terms seeking professional legal advice, it’s one of their rights under the legislation, and where those legal costs are necessary and reasonable, they will be reimbursed for those fees,” she said.

“So like the other rights that they have under this legislation, we encourage landholders to exercise those rights.”

Resource companies say they too encourage farmers to seek advice. A spokesman for QGC says the company advises every landholder to obtain independent legal advise.

“QGC pays for the legal advice that the landholder engages,” the spokesman said in a statement.

“QGC cannot and does not choose or influence the source of independent legal advice that a landholder may choose to engage.

“In addition, QGC provides landholders with copies of the advice produced by the State Government about how to negotiate a land-access compensation agreement.”

QGC says it has more than 800 agreements with landholders, proving the two industries can and already do co-exist.

But the rate at which the coal seam gas industry is growing has some fearing for their future.

QGC says it plans to sink about 6,000 wells across 4,500 square-kilometres over the next 20 years.

Ms Lloyd says she is worried about what will happen to their land and the great aquifer that it lies on.

“We’ve got two small boys and we’d love to think that one day, if they wanted to pursue a future here, that we could possibly try and help them achieve that, although in this climate today I think we’d really probably question it,” she said.

“It’s hard enough with our own business just managing that, and trying to cope with the hurdles of dealing with coal seam gas, it’s hard yards to get around. It’s a good headache.”

Topics: mining-industry, oil-and-gas, environmental-impact, rural, agricultural-policy, states-and-territories, chinchilla-4413, qld

First posted September 30, 2011 16:13:33

More stories from Queensland

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-30/coal-seam-gas-rights-feature/3193840?section=qld

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