THE local president of the NSW Farmers Association says he believes new landholder access principles with gas mining companies AGL and Santos are a step in the right direction.
Late last week AGL and Santos agreed to the new principles with farmers and the State government to provide further assurance that landholders wishes will be respected in the conduct of its gas operations.
“Farmers will now have a bit more control over the decisions as to what happens on their land,” NSW Farmers Gloucester branch president Aled Hoggett said.
“It also offers farmers a sense of comfort.”
The agreement with AGL and Santos means the companies will have to respect a private agricultural landholder’s right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to coal seam gas drilling operations on their land.
It also means these companies will not take farmers to arbitration in order to gain property access.
AGL’s managing director Michael Fraser said the new principles formalised the respectful and collaborative relationship the company has with farmers.
“We promise that we will continue to respect farmers who say yes or no to our operations. While the arbitration rights will remain in law, AGL has never exercised these rights and expect we never will,” Mr Fraser said.
“This is an important step in facilitating the development of the State’s natural gas resources for the benefit of the whole community.
“These principles reflect the vital role farmers play on the land and what AGL has always done - listened with respect. The success of coal seam gas in NSW rests entirely on the trust we have developed with the farmers who host us on their land.”
AGL has more than 200 access agreements with farmers across the State.
“In many cases we don’t own the land on which we operate - so our success depends on good relationships with farmers,” Mr Fraser said.
“We are encouraged that these new principles also condemn any bullying of farmers who exercise their right to say yes.”
Mr Hoggett said he anticipated there would still be some issues to be ironed out under the new agreement.
“It demonstrates the importance of gaining a social licence for the gas companies and this is one step in that direction,” he said.
“One of the issues I still have with gas is that it doesn’t necessarily respect property boundaries.
“Directional drilling under properties can occur for kilometres in some cases and there are still issues with fracking in that it can potentially spread into aquifers on adjoining land.”
NSW Farmers, NSW Irrigators Council and Cotton Australia say they will continue to advocate strongly for the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to operations to be enshrined in legislation.