Coal seam gas plans for St Peters never had permission to go ahead

Stop coal seam gas rally, Sydney, May 1. Photo: Peter Boyle

Residents of St Peters have been shocked to discover the company that planned to drill for coal seam gas (CSG) in their community never had a formal land access agreement with the owners of the proposed site.

This news comes just days after Marrickville Council voted unanimously to prohibit CSG on the site in question as a condition of the council issued development renewal. The St Peters site is owned by Dial A Dump and is home to a waste and recycling facility. The decision made by Marrickville Council on Tuesday May 8 permits Dial A Dump to continue operations provided it does not allow any CSG activity on the site.

Christopher Biggs, a solicitor for Dial A Dump, said today: “Coal seam gas is not on the company’s radar.

“We have not got an agreement … and we have not had an agreement.”

Jacinta Green is a local resident and president of Stop CSG Sydney, a campaigning group formed by concerned inner-west residents. She said: “For the past 18 months, Dart Energy has continually led us to believe that drilling a coal seam gas well in the Dial A Dump Site at St Peters was a done deal. At the very first meeting between Dart Energy and what at the time was known as Sydney Residents against Coal Seam Gas, we were led to believe that drilling at St Peters was just weeks away from commencing.

“By this stage we had already determined that exploratory drilling, as proposed by Dart, required by law, an access agreement with the landholder. At no stage did Dart Energy reveal to us that they did not actually have a landholder access agreement.

“We were under the impression that for the state government to approve an exploratory well, they needed a landholder access agreement and as the state government had approved the well, a landholder access agreement must have been reached.”

The campaign against CSG in Sydney’s inner-west started in November 2010 when Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann uncovered plans by Macquarie Energy to conduct exploration in St Peters.

Documents submitted by Macquarie Energy to the planning department show that in October 2008 the Labor state government issued a licence (PEL 463) to allow CSG exploration in Sydney.

Macquarie Energy was a subsidiary of Apollo Gas, which was wholly acquired by Dart Energy in February last year. As part of the takeover, Dart Energy acquired all of Apollo’s assets, including Macquarie Energy and its PEL 463 over Sydney.

Before a CSG company can undertake exploratory drilling, it must first submit a Review of Environmental Factors (REF) to the state planning department. Accordingly, in February 2010, Macquarie Energy submitted its REF seeking approval from the state government to conduct CSG exploration in St Peters.

The document considers the potential environmental impacts of exploration at the site owned by Dial A Dump: “One drill hole is proposed in the suburb of St Peters which is located approximately 5 kilometres southwest of the Sydney CBD … The drill hole is located on private property, owned by ‘Dial a Dump Industries’. The property, known as ‘Alexandria Landfill’ is located at 10-16 Albert Street, St Peters.”

The planning department approved the proposal to drill at St Peters, but a formal land access agreement did not exist between the gas company and Dial A Dump.

The 2010 REF states: “Macquarie Energy has commenced consultation with the relevant property owners and will continue with this program until all rehabilitation works have been completed. Once the proposal is approved by DII, negotiation will occur with relevant property owners to reach an agreement regarding land access, compensation and rehabilitation.”

The plans for CSG operations in St Peters were first reported by the Sydney Morning Herald on November 14, 2010, just days after Faehrmann had discovered the proposal.

Soon after the story hit the headlines, a letter from Apollo Energy (Macquarie’s parent company) was circulated to St Peters residents living closest to the proposed site. It read: “…you may be aware though recent press that Apollo has intends to undertake exploratory drilling in the St Peters area … the particular site in St Peters where Apollo proposes to drill is located in an operating waste management facility”.

It went on to explain the location had been selected for several reasons including good access and infrastructure.

But Dial A Dump says no gas company has ever had an access agreement with it to conduct any CSG activities on its St Peters property.

Biggs, speaking for Dial a Dump, said Macquarie Energy did approach the company “some years ago” about CSG at the St Peters site but that it was a “casual” discussion. He said Dial A Dump had suggested to Macquarie Energy that it seek approvals from the state government “and then come back to us”. According to Biggs, they never did that and no agreement was ever entered into regarding use of the site for purposes to do with CSG operations.

“We are pretty unhappy about [the attention],” said Biggs.

Biggs said that when the news first broke in the media about the apparent plans to drill at the St Peters site, the company was subjected to “abusive comments” left on the office answering machine. “The reports on TV came as a surprise to us. We thought, goodness me, what’s all that about, because we had no idea.”

The original REF submitted to the state government by Macquarie Energy in February 2010 said of the St Peters proposal that “drilling operations are planned to commence in early 2010 and are expected to last a maximum of 60 days”.

When Dart acquired the licence covering St Peters early last year, company representatives, in dealings with the community, confirmed their intention to use the Dial A Dump site for CSG exploration and discussed issues such as hours of operation, disposal and treatment of associated water, and the use of hydraulic fracturing.

After months of scrutiny in the media and outcry by the community, Dart’s Australian manager Robbert de Weijer said in a statement in July last year that drilling operations in PEL463 “aren’t expected to commence until at least mid-2012 and this is unlikely to be in St Peters”.

A spokesperson for Dart Energy today said the company has “no plans for St Peters right now”.

“We are conducting a land use study,” the spokesperson said. “That study will identify some recommended areas for potential exploration.” Dart says its focus for PEL 463 is on identifying areas that are “predominantly commercial and industrial”.

Dart’s most recent quarterly activity report released on March 31 says that “the study identified a number of industrial areas” within PEL 463 for potential exploration activity to take place. The company said that “initial contact with these land holders is planned for the next quarter and discussions will continue with State and local governments” with regard to its “strategy” in the licence area.

Green said: “The community had made its position very clear: we are opposed to coal seam gas. Our local council has also made its position very clear: they will oppose any proposal that endorses coal seam gas in our community. Dial A Dump, the landholders, whose position has been most unfairly maligned to the community by inference from Dart Energy, have now also made their opposition to coal seam gas very clear.”

On the community campaign against CSG in St Peters, Green says the focus now is on getting the state government to officially rescind Dart’s planning approval to conduct exploration in the area.

“Coal seam gas wells never were and never will be an option for urban areas.”

[Republished from]