Farmer says gas exploration welcome: ‘energy has got come from somewhere’

WOULDN'T HESITATE: Cooriemungle farmer Simon Gleeson can see the benefits in opening up the region to gas exploration. Picture: Rob Gunstone
WOULDN'T HESITATE: Cooriemungle farmer Simon Gleeson can see the benefits in opening up the region to gas exploration. Picture: Rob Gunstone

COORIEMUNGLE dairy farmer Simon Gleeson remembers the non-stop "noise pollution" the onshore gas well generated – an industrial rumble that was audible from inside his house 24 hours a day.

There were truck movements on his property at daytime, loud crashes of machinery and a tall tower that stood out in the skyline where the well had been drilled just 400 metres from his home.

But Mr Gleeson said he wouldn’t hesitate to say yes if someone came knocking on his front door again tomorrow asking to search for gas on his farmland.

“No-one wants a hole drilled in their farm but we’re not the type of people that say ‘not in our backyard’ either; energy has got to come from somewhere,” Mr Gleeson said.

Victoria is preparing to open up more than 1300 kilometres of western Victorian coastal waters and coastline to offshore gas exploration in February, including the possibility of drilling for offshore gas from onshore.

The state waters being opened to gas exploration for the first time stretch from the Twelve Apostles National Park near Port Campbell to the South Australian border.

Offshore gas could be reached by drilling from onshore, subject to regulatory approvals, briefing notes for industry state.

This would potentially involve exploration activity and ultimately commercial gas extraction on farms such as Mr Gleeson’s.

The Victorian Farmers Federation said it was against any onshore gas drilling on farmland until research has confirmed its environmental effects.

"Without hard scientific evidence to prove the risks of onshore gas development can be properly managed, Victorian land should not be put at risk," a spokesperson said.

The government announced the release of new offshore oil and gas acreage on Wednesday, despite having imposed a moratorium on conventional onshore gas exploration or drilling until June 2020.

Premier Daniel Andrews insisted on Thursday that the release did not breach the state’s onshore moratorium.

He said the technology had been used in the past, with downward drilling from land and then horizontally out into the seabed where there are “significant natural gas reserves”.

“This doesn’t breach the moratorium, it’s not against the spirit of the moratorium,” he said. “It’s perfectly legal and it’s the subject of a vigorous approval process.”

Victoria’s Coalition first put the moratorium in place in 2014 but has promised to lift it if it wins the November election.

Shadow energy minister David Southwick said the government’s release made a mockery of its drilling ban.

“This premier is so lost on energy policy he will pander to environmental groups by blocking onshore gas until 2020, yet give the green light for industry to drill holes in a marine national park from onshore locations,” Mr Southwick said.

The briefing notes for the acreage release state that any drilling into the waters of a marine national park from onshore would have to comply with the National Parks Act 1975.

The opposition has also promised in lifting the moratorium to give landowners the right of veto and a 10 per cent cut of the royalties from any gas extracted.

Gas mining company Lakes Oil drilled a well on Mr Gleeson’s Cooriemungle farm in 2012, before the moratorium was brought in.

Lakes Oil paid Mr Gleeson $20,000 for its six-week occupation of part of his farm (the well was quickly found to contain a commercially unviable quantity of gas) and he says the company did everything it could to keep him happy while it was there.

Lakes Oil operations manager Tim O'Brien said drilling for offshore gas from onshore was vastly more expensive than onshore drilling.

The company holds the exploration rights to several onshore gasfields but is prevented from drilling due to the moratorium, and has sued the Andrews government.

The government has stipulated that any commercial gas that ultimately flows from the offshore fields should be reserved for domestic consumers before being exported.

Mr Andrews said that Australia needed a domestic reserve and urged the Turnbull government to “step up and provide the national leadership required”.

He said supply was not an issue but rather where the gas was being sent.

“It’s being sent overseas. We are essentially competing against the rest of the world for our gas for our needs.”

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan has been contacted for comment.