17th January 2014
In assessing AGL and Panagea Resources’ plans to place gas wells on farms and near residences in the Gloucester Basin and Manning Valley, it is difficult not to conclude that the industrialisation of farmland in the region is incompatible with existing sustainable industries.
Many millions of dollars has been spent over many decades by private businesses and government building sustainable industries in the region, such as tourism, wine, thoroughbred horses and agriculture. All these are under threat as gas companies enforce their existing legal right to enter land to begin drilling.
Here’s the reality for anybody not in the pocket of the mining industry: people do not want to holiday in a gas field.
Given that the gas industry is undertaking a massive PR campaign to grease the wheels of government and label opposition to their plans as ‘hippy ferals’, it is important for farmers, businesses and residents to arm themselves with the facts and speak out now.
The NSW Government is expected to announce the approval, or not, of the AGL gas wells for Gloucester at any time.
The Hunter Valley Wine Association expelled AGL from its membership in 2011 saying they cannot co-exist with gas wells.
The Thoroughbred Breeders of the Hunter Valley have also concluded that gas wells were incompatible with their activities and successfully applied to the NSW Government for ‘industry cluster’ protection from the encroaching gas licenses.
This week the Rice Growers’ Association applied for protection from the gas industry. NSW Irrigators have spoken out against the coal seam gas to protect the agricultural industry. However the powerful gas lobby is spending millions of dollars in public relations to get their projects approved.
The license owned by Paul Fudge’s Panagea is 10,119sqkm covering the towns of Taree, Wingham, Bulahdelah and the entire Barrington Tops. Smaller villages such as Tinonee and Krambach do not have big enough populations to invoke the protection of the 2km exclusion zone imposed by the state government. Fudge’s license covers the ‘Myall Syncline’ geological basin.
In comparison to Panagea’s massive coal seam gas license, AGL’s covers 1308sqkm around Gloucester township and through the Gloucester Basin.
AGL plans to begin their controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing gas wells, known as fracking, just 300m from the residences of aged pensioners at Gloucester. We’ve already seen those same wells accidently erupt methane 300m away from the well in a blow out that immediately halted work and saw a 8 percent dive of the share price in one day of then operator Molopo.
It’s now time for tourism operators and associations to ask themselves whether they can survive the expected downturn as visitors reject the idea of holidaying in a gas field.
With flaring and venting gas wells planned every few hundred metres around Gloucester, concerns have been raised by reputable scientists regarding the air quality around such heavy industry.
Organic growers and others who depend upon a ‘clean’ brand name will also be affected and are encouraged to seek out the facts on the fracking industry. Operators such as Hillview Herb Farm, who have spent years developing their sustainable business. are located just a few hundred metres from AGL’s gas wells.
The region’s Chambers of Commerce should be concerned at the rapid expansion of gas wells and their effects on visitor numbers. Gloucester and Greater Taree City Councils have expressed their opposition to the gas wells but residences are fearful that the NSW Government is not listening to the people, instead taking their advice from the gas industry.
Know this: once our communities and businesses are gone, they’re gone.
Mark Anning, MBA, is a former manager for a regional economic development board covering three shire councils. He is experienced at assessing industry developments for suitability, sustainability and their ability to co-exist with other land uses.