Monday, 28 April 2014

The Land, Coal Seam Gas and Coexistence

by Muhammad Makki

A snapshot to visualise and to give a glimpse of understanding -

The Land, Coal Seam Gas and Coexistence

First published as a shorter version in the Have Your Say column Courier Mail Saturday April 26
Muhammad Makki
It was getting much cooler in Goombi as the sun set after a bright and dry day. I was driving back to Chinchilla on a dusty unsealed road after meeting a landholder who hosts CSG- LNG pipeline. Something she had said to me through a piqued face stuck in my brain:

"Why don’t you open up your backyard and the front gate and let CSG in and then see how it goes” or let me say “suck it and see”."

The quiet country, with agriculture as a dominant avocation, is now depressed, and is experiencing a rapid change under the influence of coal seam gas (CSG) development. As the evening wore on in the Western Downs it reminded me of the ‘pain’ of being overridden, disempowered, exhausted and under siege, every day. Here now the sun sets quietly, full of stories unheard. The rules of the country and the complexion of country life are changing imperceptibly and the once fantasised setting is dissolving into doubts because of escalating CSG developments. Who cares if the very fabric of a farmer’s land is negatively impacted somewhere deep in the country; a world away from the sports clubs, fancy restaurants and cosy cafes of Brisbane.

Imagine morning on a farm, sitting on a chair watching dawn break, enjoying the tranquillity of your surroundings with a coffee listening to the birds and thinking, ‘What to be done today?’ – moments just singing out. The land, like an old trusted friend, brings freedom and long, honest working hours bring pleasure at the end of the day.

But your life is turned upside down as soon you open a letter from a CSG company titled, ‘Proposed Infrastructure for Your Land’. As soon you opened the letter your life becomes so stressful, with endless pressures and everything seems to be at stake: the farm, business, pride and motivation for being on the land. And then imagine yourself reading repeatedly the sentence:

“if we are unable to reach mutually acceptable access and compensation agreement, [the company] may, as a last resort, ask the Coordinator-General to acquire interests in land on behalf of [company] for the purpose of the project”.

You should know that you don’t have any legal power or right to say, ‘No.’; you simply have to ‘suck it up’. One can see the fear right there in your eyes, as clear as anything. 
Painting – ‘The letter and the landholder’ by Muhammad Makki
And then soon you will find yourself in a state of emotional stress, engaged in countless hours of reading and replying to emails, letters, phone calls, attending community meetings, information sessions, asking questions and trying to find answers, and attempting to make sense of complicated scientific terms. And imagine when you’re dealing and negotiating with more than one CSG proponent. This takes time, and when you are responsible for thousands of acres land and livestock that number in the hundreds, there is no time to waste. 

Imagine also restrained by a limited bank balance that you don’t have many moves left, and you are compelled to sign the agreement with CSG companies. Picture your paddocks and land becoming work sites for months, trampled by beeping utes going up and down and unknown persons on your property at times working around the clock under floodlights. Your land is overwhelmed by gravel or cement well pads, fenced with connecting roads, access points, underground power, gas and water pipelines, vents, and compressor stations. You discover that the auto steer tractor you purchased at enormous cost is no longer usable, because of the underground pipes and other infrastructure has fragmented the paddocks into odd shapes. And you notice that your cattle don’t utilise all the grass, now covered in dust because of the traffic. You worry about your underground water disappearing due to the CSG companies ‘de-pressurising’ the adjacent aquifer. You have to check and ensure now that there is no loss arising from CSG activities on your land and have to double check that gates shut properly, fences are in place, and cattle are not being exposed to plastic left lying about or any other dangerous substance. And let’s not imagine the ongoing management cost you will face for the pipeline and gas wells, which will be there for 30 to 40 years.

And now imagine your life is ‘Gas Gas and just Gas’. You will be known by the moniker, ‘Gas’, when you introduce yourself to someone in Toowoomba, Brisbane or elsewhere. At any funeral, birthday party or community hall the conversation will eventually come to CSG, and soon you will be sick of it.

And now you won’t remember the last time you had the luxury of thinking about improving livestock genetics, soil, pastures, ground cover and moisture retention; or even tennis, footy and cricket. There is no time for that anymore, and your confidence and motivation as a landholder is simply eroded.

Now the land might seem to be just a place to bury the broken dreams.

 There is no doubt that CSG industry has learnt and improved through the years, but the industry must realise that there is no fast lane out there in the country and it is the industry out of step with the pace of life of agriculturalists attuned to the variance of season and weather. If the industry does not learn these lessons, anti CSG movement is well positioned to slow the pace of development. There is no other way except for industry to reduce the severity of impacts on landholders and to reduce their distrust and doubts.

Note: This article is the personal opinion of the writer based on fieldwork experience and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of any particular institution or organization. 

Contributor Muhammad Makki is a PhD researcher at School of Journalism and Communication & Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) at Sustainable Mineral Institute, The University of Queensland.

Previous published related posts


  1. This is the essence of crony capitalism:
    "And then imagine yourself reading repeatedly the sentence “if we are unable to reach mutually acceptable access and compensation agreement, [the company] may, as a last resort, ask the Coordinator-General to acquire interests in land on behalf of [company] for the purpose of the project”."
    Essentially this means that if a landholder does not voluntarily come to an agreement with the company, the state can and will, take his rights away. Rapacious governments and acquisitive companies with their hands in each others pockets trump the rights of landholders and anyone else who stands in their way.
    The rights of the individual should be paramount. Were this the case, the landholder would have the right to refuse, and would be in a much better position to negotiate on a fair and equitable basis and CSG companies would have to treat them with a lot more respect and cooperation.
    While government and business work together on a 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' basis, we will continue to be looted.

  2. Jim you have hit the nail on the head, "Rapacious governments and acquisitive companies with their hands in each others pockets trump the rights of landholders and anyone else who stands in their way."

    This is what I have witnessed all around me in the Surat Basin, from small time local government councillors who were wooed & won over with supply contracts before anyone else knew that they were available to State government blind sided by prospective royalties introducing legislation and regulation with a blatant disregard to the rights of the individual landowner.

    in the early years the message was made strongly and frequently by both government and the companies that the landowner had no choice but to sign to what was first put in front of them. The companies used many bluffs and government did not go to the trouble of correcting them.

  3. Great piece by Muhammad, and potent comments. Are any farmers / graziers in the Qld and NSW CSG provinces starting to get a fair deal? As in are any happy with contracts now being made with energy companies, which aren't at the cost of alienating neighbours who might see themselves as unreasonably, negatively impacted?

    Are the series of inter-related ICAC enquiries in NSW achieving anything, or just stirring up more angst and mistrust?

    Cheers and good luck (genuinely) to all on the land, fighting weather, lousy prices and agri-industry fragmentation, non level competition fields, obstructionist politics and more .....

  4. Al, re "are any farmers/ graziers starting to get a fair deal?"
    It is improving. But its not an automatic right available to all. To reach a deal you must have the skills or able to employ someone with very good negotiating skills. You must be prepared for a long campaign, a fair bit of stress. You will need to use and have reports from various professionals such as lawyers, valuator. These costs will be recouped if the deal is done but when these costs go into the hundreds of thousands there are many who baulk at it and take what is offered. And BTW be ready for a court case or two.

    Richard Golden spoke at last years PRA conference (June 2013), he had already a lot of interaction with different resource companies through exploration etc. and was about to start negotiating 9 different agreements.
    This article is from Feb 2014 after now completing 2 of those agreements. Read it and you will begin to understand what it takes to achieve a fair deal where the landowner is fully compensated.


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