Fracking Changes Getting Legal Advice More Necessary Than Ever
The NSW government has just announced new plans to change laws and regulations governing fracking that will make it more important than ever for landholders to get good legal advice if their land is targeted by coal seam gas miners.
The controversial gas extraction method called fracking involves forcefully injecting a mix of water and chemicals to fracture the rock above coal seams and allow miners to extract the gas that had been trapped.
There is a great deal of concern that the process contaminates groundwater and the land surface with potentially hazardous consequences.
There has been an outcry about damage caused to valuable and productive farm land, but in the past landholders have been unable to completely block licensed miners exploring their land for potential gas seams.
The miners do have to get a Land Access Agreement with landholders that governs conditions of entry to the land. But they cant be stopped forever. Miners have to cover costs of the landholder to get legal advice.
If miners find gas the landholder cant stop them drilling and extracting it. Landholders dont get any money for gas under their land, but they are entitled to compensation for damage caused to surface land.
Premier Barry OFarrell promised during the election to fence off prime food-producing areas from miners. But his new draft plan falls far short of that pledge. In areas defined as strategic agricultural land, miners and drillers will have to get approval from a new independent scientific panel before a development application can be lodged.
Independent legal advice will be sorely needed as its unclear what qualifies an area as strategic farmland. The science panel will be appointed by the NSW Planning Minister, so its independence can be questioned. Maps prepared so far show only four per cent of the rich agricultural lands in the Upper Hunter Valley and New England Tablelands meet the criteria for extra protection. Next to be mapped will be the Southern Highlands and the mapping will eventually cover all of NSW.
The only bit of good news in the plan for landholders who want to stop drilling on their land is that they will be able to fight their case in court for free. Mining companies will have to meet all legal costs for farmers who object to mining on their land.
With the government wanting the revenue from gas extraction, it makes sense for landholders to get their own legal advice to protect their property and the water they depend on.