Why do landholders have no power against CSG?

Queensland Country Life
20 May, 2010 09:27 AM
WHY do landholders appear to have so little power in negotiations with mining companies, when key sections of the Queensland Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 emphasise protection of landholder interests?Dalby solicitor Peter Shannon is asking that question after recently examining all 942 sec-tions of the Act.

He has identified several clauses that he believes are intended to protect existing lawful uses of land from unreasonable interference from petroleum activities.

Section 3, for example, which details the main purpose of the Act, requires petroleum companies to minimise conflict with other users, to manage land in a responsible way and to facilitate constructive consultation with affected people.

Section 804 requires petroleum companies to operate in a way that “does not unreasonably interfere with anyone else carrying out a lawful activity”.

Yet he says this is at odds with the stories he continually hears from anguished landholder clients about being told by mining company representatives they have no say over whether planned developments go ahead, regardless of the likely impact on their farming operations.

Mr Shannon believes landholders have lost out because the Queensland Government has failed to enforce the key elements of the Act that are designed to protect landholder interests.

He points to Section 153 (3) (b), which requires that consultation with landholders be carried out in the way “provided for in the lease”, or if the lease does not contain such detail, the minister provides direction on how consultation is carried out.

Mr Shannon said that in his experience of dealing with petroleum leases, he is yet to see one lease that contains details on how consultation should be carried out.

In the absence of such detail, it is then up to the minister to provide direction according to Section 153 (3) (b).

However, six years after the Act was passed, that still hasn’t happened, Mr Shannon believes.

“You pick up the Act; you read it; you say ‘okay, where are the guidelines this section refers to?’; you go and look for those guidelines and they have not been done and you say, ‘well, why haven’t they been done?’ ” Mr Shannon said. “The Minister has not set guidelines, so they (petroleum companies) have had a free run in how they consult with land-owners, if at all.”

Mr Shannon recently exposed how the State Government’s failure to set trigger thresholds on aquifers as required in the Pet-roleum and Gas Act 2004 had allowed coal seam gas companies to operate without reporting on groundwater impacts.

He believes the State Government’s failure to set guidelines governing consultation standards on petroleum leases has played into the hands of petroleum com-panies for the past six years at the expense of existing landholders.

Mr Shannon said that when Section 3 and Section 804 were read together, the intention of the Act was that miners should be required to work around land owners.

“If there is a priority either way, when you read those two pieces together, it should be the landowner’s way,” he said.

“But every landowner is out there having sleepless nights be-cause they think there is absolutely nothing they can do.

“To me, you add all that up together and the Minister is giving the industry the exemption to do whatever it likes by failing to set guidelines.”

A clear need existed for the Minister to clarify guidelines to prevent future conflict.

This was highlighted by Sec-tion 805, which stipulated that a person must not – without a reasonable excuse – obstruct a petroleum authority holder from entering or crossing land to carry out an authorised activity, or from carrying an authorised activity.

“You can see how this could all get out of hand if the minister doesn’t take control by issuing guidelines,” Mr Shannon said.

“You could have a landholder saying you can’t come on my land because you will cause an unreasonable interference, and then you could have a gas company saying hang on, you’re obstructing me.

“It could be a mess for the courts if the minister does not read the Act and get some proper planning and protection of people’s rights happening.”

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