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Condamine farmer Shawn Fresser fears coal seam gas mining under his property could cost him millions



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Yr in, 12 months out, Shawn Fresser’s 1,200-hectare farm close to Dalby, 200 kilometres west of Brisbane, produces the equal of about 1.5 million pairs of denims, 6.8 million loaves of bread and a couple of.5 million kilograms of corn chips.

He grows cotton, legumes and grain on the fertile soil of the Condamine flood plain. Land right here is value greater than twice the nationwide agricultural common and is classed by the Queensland authorities as prime agricultural space.

“What we have right here is de facto particular,” Mr Fresser mentioned.

“We may develop 15 to twenty completely different crops actually simply … all whereas utilizing rain occasions to retailer water and rotating the crops so as to add carbon again into our soils by way of natural matter.”

Farmer Shawn Fresser stands next to the Condamine River.
Mr Fresser’s fertile soil is fed by the Condamine River on the high of the Murray-Darling Basin. (ABC Rural: Alys Marshall)

However now, the state authorities is contemplating a proposal by Shell-owned Arrow Vitality to drill a number of coal seam fuel wells underneath Mr Fresser’s property, to extract water and fuel.

Mr Fresser is anxious that he could have no avenue to entry compensation for damages brought on by the exercise.

In a press release, Arrow Vitality mentioned it needed the agriculture and fuel sectors to thrive collectively.

“Queensland’s Mineral and Vitality Sources (Widespread Provisions) Act 2014 requires us to compensate landholders the place it is established our actions have precipitated an impression to their operations,” a spokesperson mentioned.

“That is the case no matter whether or not there’s an upfront settlement in place or there’s fuel infrastructure on, or underneath, a landholder’s property.” 

‘Scarily gray authorized space’

Mr Fresser’s lawyer Peter Shannon mentioned instances just like the Condamine farmer’s sat in an space of authorized uncertainty.

“The long-standing English legislation that we have inherited has rights similar to trespass and nuisance that say if somebody causes you harm, you are entitled to compensation,” he defined.

“However over time, acts of parliament have encroached and it is acquired to some extent the place, whereas ever the [mining] exercise is authorised, landholders have very restricted means to say compensation.”

A man points at a computer screen.
Peter Shannon worries concerning the “greyness” of laws in terms of compensation.(ABC Rural: Alys Marshall)

Mr Shannon mentioned the legislation turned extra convoluted when the potential damages occurred below the land’s surface.

“Typically, land possession ceases on the level the landowner could not make precise, useful use of the sub-surface area … sub-surface land is due to this fact usually owned by the state,” a Queensland Division of Sources truth sheet reads.

And the coal seam fuel trade operates predominantly on this sub-surface land.

Mr Shannon makes use of the analogy of an octopus: the top — the fuel nicely pad — on one particular person’s land, however the tentacles — the deviated pipelines — stretching out beneath the land of the neighbours.

A gas well on a farm.
A fuel nicely on a neighbouring property, with directional drilling going out underneath the land’s floor.(ABC Rural: Alys Marshall)

This places landholders like Mr Fresser, who may have useful resource exercise beneath them, in a “scarily gray authorized space,” in keeping with Mr Shannon.

“The useful resource corporations conceal behind the greyness.”

Enormous losses at stake

The impression of deviated drilling on the bottom’s floor is the largest concern for landholders.

“In the event that they drill underneath us, subsidence will certainly be an enormous drawback,” Mr Fresser mentioned.

Subsidence, a pure phenomenon solely lately recognised for its correlation with fuel exercise, happens when adjustments to coal seams underground trigger the land’s floor to shift and sink.

The Queensland Workplace of Groundwater Affect Evaluation (OGIA) reported about 100 millimetres of CSG-induced subsidence has already occurred in gasfields close to the Condamine Alluvium.

Corn crop.
The Fressers’s corn crop annually produces 2.5 million corn chips.(ABC Rural: Alys Marshall)

On a farm like Mr Fresser’s, that has been laser-levelled to permit flood irrigated water to movement, any sinking of the soil may have a huge effect — probably leading to hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in harm.

“We have now 4 water storage dams, they usually vary from storing 300 to 700 megalitres of water every,” Mr Fresser mentioned.

“If the bottom beneath a kind of dams was to sink it may trigger the entire thing to burst.

“I do not wish to know what harm that might do to both our crops or our individuals.”

Entry to compensation?

Relating to receiving compensation for these potential damages brought on by a useful resource firm, a case like Mr Fresser’s is breaking new authorized floor.

The Queensland Division of Sources mentioned, “the place a landholder’s land is inside the space of a useful resource authority and a compensatable impact is brought on by directional drilling on or underneath the land, they are going to be entitled to compensation”.

However to lawyer Peter Shannon, these are “weasel phrases”. 

He mentioned the primary hurdle for landholders can be proving their harm occurred inside the authorised space of the useful resource authority.

“It is not unusual for some individuals to have two or three tenures [authorised mining areas] on their land, owned by completely different fuel corporations, or to be dissected by a tenure on both aspect.”

A map showing Arrow Energy authorised areas (in purple) and established gas wells (many red dots).
A map displaying Arrow Vitality authorised areas (purple) and established fuel wells (purple).(GeoResGlobe)

Mr Fresser, for instance, has a tenure operating by way of the center of his place that encompasses a few of his storage dams however excludes others.

“When you recover from that hurdle, you then should show you may have suffered a compensatable impact,” Mr Shannon mentioned.

With no point out of subsidence inside Part 81 of the Minerals and Vitality Sources (Widespread Provisions) Act, Mr Shannon mentioned “you have acquired the issue of getting to show subsidence as a compensatable impact”.

“It is simply an absolute nightmare for landholders, who can see all these avenues that fuel corporations have to withstand their compensation claims,” he mentioned.

“They’ll should be ready to go to court docket and be ready to lose, which is a place they merely should not be in.”

Restricted compensation

In a recent report, unbiased statutory physique Gasfields Fee Queensland really useful the state authorities present a “statutory framework that ensures acceptable safety for landholders the place CSG-induced subsidence might be demonstrated”.

The Gasfields Fee additionally acknowledged the laws restricted compensation to landholders who had been situated inside the bounds of the useful resource authority.

“There ought to be a mechanism for [those outside those bounds] to entry impression evaluation and potential recourse for impression no matter whether or not they’re on or off tenure,” the report learn.

‘No management’

Within the quiet of the night time, as his younger household sleeps, Shawn Fresser lies awake.

“There’s an entire bunch of feelings that you just really feel each day with these things,” he mentioned.

A pipe with water gushing out into an irrigation channel on a farm.
Mr Fresser’s farm has been laser-levelled to permit most water sustainability.(ABC Rural: Alys Marshall)

“I am going by way of phases I wish to combat it, then I am going by way of phases that I simply wish to promote up and quit.

“Folks usually ask me if my children wish to come dwelling and be farmers, and I’ve to say I do not know if I would like them to, and that is heartbreaking.

“I’ve no management over my very own place.”