AGL and Santos have agreed to stay off farmers properties that don’t want them there, signing a historic deal.
The energy companies have pledged not to access land for coal seam gas drilling unless landholders give them permission.
The agreement means the companies will not take farmers to arbitration in order to gain access to their land.
Titled the Principles of Land Access, and signed by NSW Farmers, Cotton Australia and the NSW Irrigators Council, the agreement states that "the parties will uphold the landholder's decision to allow access for drilling operations and do not support attempts by third party groups to interfere with any agreed operations".
NSW Farmers’ conservation resource management chair Mitchell Clapham said the agreement was a win for the state’s farming families, ABC reported.
“We had been told by many companies for a number of years that this is how they operate, but we asked them to put in writing,” he said.
“We congratulate Santos and AGL on their willingness to take a leadership role within their industry in Australia and recognise that respecting landholder rights is a cornerstone of any social licence when it comes to working with farming families and rural and regional communities.
“We strongly encourage other CSG operators in NSW to show their commitment and sign up to this agreement.”
NSW Farmers, NSWIC and Cotton Australia said they will continue to advocate for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ rights to legislated.
NSW Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts said the deal showed how the CSG sector was working with the community.
“The agreed principles show that there are reputable, professional and capable companies that can responsibly develop natural gas resources in NSW while recognising the importance of respecting, communicating and working with communities," he said.
Roberts also said environmental activists should not bully or harass farmers who choose to grant gas companies land access.
Others say the agreement does not go far enough, and claims landholders are still burdened with gas and pipeline infrastructure.
“Large numbers of farmers across north-west NSW are at risk of forced access by gas companies for the substantial infrastructure that accompanies a gasfield, including major pipelines, compressor stations and wastewater storages,” Gunnedah councillor and chairman of the Mullaley Gas Pipeline Accord, David Quince, said.
“As far as I can see, this agreement released today just hangs farmers like me out to dry and we can be dragged through the courts and our land carved up and degraded for CSG infrastructure.
Quince added that he was surprised to see the agreement “signed in secret”.
"I take special offence to the last line of the agreement which suggests that farmers shouldn't have the right to oppose CSG drilling on a neighbour's land.
"We have every right to oppose CSG drilling on any land if it threatens to pollute our water, contaminate our produce, devalue our land or divide our community.”
“Under this company I operate if you don't want me on your land to drill a well, I will not be coming. I will work with farmers who do want me on their land and I think it’s very important that people are given that choice,” Knox said last year.
“…we are not an industry that is going to be here for five minutes or even five years. We are going to be working in conjunction with land owners and the communities for probably 20, 30, 40 years. So it is clearly not going to work if we are not welcome,” Knox explained.