CSG protesters warned over blockade; Dart Energy signs agreement with veggie farm

 The dispute over coal seam gas (CSG) extraction and food security continues, with gas company AGL warning protesters blockading a dairy farm they need to let workers perform work safely.

About 20 farmers gathered outside the farm in Gloucester, north of Newcastle, on Tuesday afternoon to prevent the CSG company bringing equipment to the property.

The owner of the property in question has given permission for exploration to begin, but farmers on surrounding farms don’t agree with the decision and say it is selfish not to consider the impact on them.

"It’s not up to individual people to let them on because it’s everybody’s water that is threatened by it," Drew Hutton from Lock The Gate, a farmers’ protest group said.

A spokesperson from AGL said the company respects the right the farmers have to protest, and will continue to work with the community on a compromise, but warned they need to exercise caution.

“We urge protesters to also respect our right to go about our activities in an orderly and, most importantly, a safe manner," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

AGL has denied claims by Lock the Gate that is licensed for 110 wells in the Gloucester Valley, saying the current drilling program was about gas exploration and not linked to the gas production wells.

"We hold approvals for this exploration program to be conducted on private land and have landowner access agreements in place," the spokeswoman said.

"We’d like the community to know that we already have a comprehensive groundwater monitoring network in place with about 25 bores that have been gathering data for the last 12 months."

Only this week it one of Australia’s major coal seam gas (CSG) explorers was defending the practice, saying it can coexist with food security and agriculture, a stance that has been challenged by environmentalists and farmers.

This morning Dart Energy announced in an Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) announcement that it has entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for its first Gas Sales Agreement in New South Wales through joint venture with Maria’s Farm Veggies.

The project will include a $65 million glasshouse being developed on the Fullerton Cove site to grow tomatoes, capsicums and cucumbers for sale in Australia.

Dart Energy will supply the natural CSG required for the heat and electricity on the project from a number of small wells included its Fullerton Cove license.

The proposal is still subject to various conditions, including final local planning approvals.

Dart also has to establish commercial gas flow from the area, and expects to drill two wells at Fullerton Cove in the first half of 2012.

The company says the agreement is proof that the two industries can coexist.

“The signing of the MoU is further evidence of our strategy art work,” Dart Energy’s Executive Chairman Nick Davies said.

“Dart seeks to develop CSG assets close to thriving gas markets where there is upside in demand and price and the ability to monetise gas quickly at attractive margins.”

The company’s chief executive, Robbert de Weijer, echoed Davies’ comments, saying coal seam gas and food production go hand in hand.

“Dart Energy has said consistently that coal seam gas can coexist with alternative productive land uses, including agriculture, in an environmentally sustainable manner.

“Today’s announcement shows how our coal seam gas project can not only coexist with but can indeed facilitiate sustainable food production and associated job creation in NSW.”

If final approvals are granted, the project will generate between 120 and 200 jobs in the region and would be completed by 2013.

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