Arrow Energy has been fined $40 000 for entering a property on Queensland’s western Darling Downs without permission from the owners.
The property, at Daandine, near Dalby, was accessed without permission for two years from 2008.
The company has been fined under new regulations which stipulate that coal and coal seam gas explorers must give written notice to landowners about intentions to mine on their properties.
Another investigation into a breach on the same property is still underway and the Queensland government has warned coal seam gas companies more fines will be delivered if landholder’s rights are ignored.
Queensland Mines Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe said the government and authorities are carefully monitoring how the industry obeys land access laws.
"The message of [yesterday’s] $40,000 fine is clear – we won’t hesitate to take tough action when we need to," he told the ABC.
"This relates to what could be portrayed as a fairly minor breach but we took it seriously enough to apply the appropriate penalty."
Arrow Energy chief executive Andrew Faulkner told the ABC he is unaware of further investigations of the company for breaching land access laws, has apologised to the owner of the property and will make sure it does not occur again.
"It represents a legacy issue – events occurred between three and 18 months ago – clearly such breaches are not acceptable," he said.
"Arrow is working hard to build a much better relationship with this landholder and we’re certainly working hard and putting in place improved systems and processes to make sure that is the case.
"We acknowledge that there were errors made in the past, there were errors that need correction.
"I’m pleased that the issue’s been resolved and I’m keen to move forward with the relationship with Mr O’Connor himself."
The farmer of the land in question, Tom O’Connor said the fine is an indication the relationship between farmers and miners is getting the right attention and CSG companies are realising they must respect the rights of landholders.
"I just hope it all shows the Government and the companies that what’s happened in our situation should not happen on any landholder and they learn from it and they improve how they come and talk to landowners," he said.
"The Government realises they must have a good look at how they regulate the system when incidents happen immediate action can be taken."
Senator Bill Heffernan, who is chairing a senate inquiry into coal seam gas extraction beginning in July told Australian Mining gas companies are using “cowboy regulation” in the David and Goliath battle against individual farmers.
“The present regulation of coal seam gas mining is wild western regulation,” he said.
“If one farmer is against it, they go around them and literally surround them rather than taking them to court, so they then have no choice but to surrender.
“These companies are multi billion dollar companies with a global agenda and if they have the right to overpower the individual farmer.
An Origin Energy spokesperson told Australian Mining the company is aware of the senate inquiry and will be participating in the hearings.
Anglo Coal and Arrow Energy did not respond to questions but the representative body for the industry, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) told Australian Mining the hysteria surrounding coal seam gas extraction is not entirely justified.
APPEA CSG Director Ross Dunn said the chemicals used in the fracking process are no more dangerous than those found in most households.
“It’s very easy to bring up an unfounded fear campaign and instil fear in people,” he said.
“If you want a story in the media, everyone knows you scare them with a toxic chemical story.
“Any chemical is safe, as long as used for proper purposes.”
“Of the 2719 wells tested by the Queensland government 5 had leaks at a level to sustain a flame, and while that’s a small percentage it is still 5 too many.
A leading natural resources expert said last month Australia needs to establish more sustainable land use planning before coal seam gas (CSG) mining is permitted.
Speaking at a forum at the University of Sydney, Dr John Williams, head of the NSW Resources Commission said different parties need to be consulted on the issue of CSG.
"I think we need to have a more holistic, regional look at where we can mine and where we can’t," Williams said.
"I think if we haven’t got development under way which has financial implications, we just hold development until we get this stuff sorted out."