When the coal seam gas industry launched into an explosive growth phase in Southern Queensland in the late 2000s, State Government legislation struggled to keep pace with the rapid-rate of expansion.
With existing mining and land access Acts at the time ill-equipped to deal with the unique nature of on-farm CSG developments, there were numerous reports of landholders being pressured into contracts without adequate legal representation and without sufficient compensation for the true nature of impacts their enterprises were likely to suffer.
Since that time and a landholder outcry that followed, significant changes have been introduced to shore up the rights of property owners when dealing with CSG developments.
Those changes have included the introduction of a Land Access Code, the need for formal entry-notices to be used at all stages of a project’s life, and the requirement for “conduct and compensation agreements” to be finalised with landholders before developments can progress.
However, despite these improvements, some landholders are still finding that not all CSG-related developments are covered by the new protections.
Southern Queensland cattle producers Gary and Kerry Ladbrook learned last year that their 2362 hectare bullock-finishing property north of Roma has been chosen as the future site of a major electricity development designed to supply power to nearby gasfields.
Under the development, which is being managed by Queensland Government owned corporation Powerlink, the Ladbrooks’ bullocks will soon share their paddocks with a large electricity sub-station and five high-voltage transmission lines, which will stretch out in various directions across the property.
The Ladbrooks have been told by Queensland Government officials and resource company staff that the purpose of the development is to supply electricity to the hundreds of gas wells and compressor stations that CSG companies Santos and Origin are developing on surrounding rural properties.
The Ladbrooks say they have also learned that powerline developments are not covered by the same act as CSG developments – even when they are for the specific purpose of supporting CSG infrastructure – but come under the older Acquisition of Land Act which does not afford the same degree of rights to landholders as the Petroleum and Gas Act.
The Ladbrooks say the planned development will remove an area of land from their operation that currently allows them to generate around $20,000 per year in bullock production.
However, they say they are still being kept in the dark about potential compensation, and have been told they cannot begin to negotiate compensation until the project is gazetted.
“We have said that we want compensation detailed now because we want to know if what you’re offering is really going to offset the impact,” Mrs Ladbrook said.
“We haven’t asked for this development, and they should be taking responsibility for the impact they’re causing.
“If this was CSG we would have a conduct and compensation agreement in place when they come on to build, so you can really set down the conduct you expect from them on your property and you can discuss the compensation you believe should be paid.
“The tactics they are using are quite bullying, it is quite intimidating to have the sort of pressure they put on you – ‘you have to sign by this time or we will use our other powers under the Acquistion of Land Act and you will be left with a legal bill’.”
The Ladbrooks said they have been informed that while producers affected by CSG developments are entitled to initial impact payments and annual payments to reflect ongoing impacts,producers affected by powerline developments were not entitled to compensation beyond what they were able to negoatiate as an initial one-off sum.
Some of the issues the Ladbrooks have had with the project to date have included the location of powerlines through the middle of paddocks rather than along fencelines, and what they say have been repeated failures by company staff to comply with vehicle washdown requirements – a reason for concern in their parthenium-free location.
The Ladbrooks are also questioning why Powerlink is seeking to have the project classified as “community" infrastructure, when it is being funded by two privately-owned CSG companies for the specific purpose of supplying electricity to their developing gas fields.
The couple and a number of nearby landholders have launched an online petition on a Queensland Government website with the backing of Liberal National Party member of parliament Howard Hobbs calling for the project not to be classified as community infrastructure.
The petition can be viewed by clicking here
Powerlink: Different Acts necessary
In a statement sent in response to the questions about the why the project is seeking community status, and why developments are not required to operate under the same code of conduct standards as CSG developments, Powerlink provided the following statement to Beef Central:
“Powerlink Queensland is currently undertaking several projects to acquire transmission line easements and substation sites to support the development of natural mineral and energy resources in South West Queensland.
“Powerlink’s Manager Investment and Regulatory Strategies, Mr Terry Miller, said there was a significant difference in the nature of single site gas infrastructure, in comparison to continuous linear transmission infrastructure, meaning the processes which support the development of each are necessarily quite different.
““Like all developments, we need to seek planning approval and rights to use land, and the legislative framework that is followed to do this for transmission infrastructure is to seek planning approvals under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 and acquire easements and substation sites under the Acquisition of Land Act 1967 (ALA),” Mr Miller said.
““Powerlink uses this approach for all transmission projects, regardless of whether they are a project initiated by Powerlink, or by a major industrial customer such as a coal seam gas company, as they provide a consistent and transparent legislative framework that ensures formal opportunities for stakeholder engagement,” he said.
““In regard to future transmission infrastructure in the region between Wandoan, Fairview and Blythdale, we are at the very early stages of these processes, which includes engaging with potentially affected landowners to ensure they understand Powerlink’s process and gather important initial information to be included in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). Importantly, the EIA process includes multiple and formal opportunities for comprehensive consultation.
““It is always Powerlink’s preference to seek agreement from landowners to undertake environmental studies and investigations on their properties, and to date over 80pc of potentially affected landowners have allowed Powerlink and our environmental consultants to conduct this work. We sincerely appreciate the willingness of these community members to work with us.
““We continue to discuss access with a number of landowners. However, if despite our genuine attempts, should we ultimately not be able to resolve the situation, to enable the project to progress Powerlink follows the correct legal process and seeks entry in accordance with the ALA.”
“Mr Miller also said Powerlink understands landowners’ interest in compensation and weed management.
““The ALA guarantees the landowner’s right to compensation in law and ensures that compensation is based on fair market value assessment and includes consideration of the number of transmission structures and any easement restrictions on the operation of the property.
“Powerlink works with landowners during the project process to establish the compensation amount in accordance with the ALA, however this is simply not able to commence until the final alignment and location of towers and any affect on property operation is able to be determined, which is much later in the process.”
“Under the ALA compensation must not be paid until after the easement or site is gazetted. After this occurs, Powerlink seeks to pay compensation claims as soon as compensation settlements are agreed.
““When accessing properties, Powerlink and its representatives follow Powerlink’s weed management protocol, which includes measures to minimise the risk of weed spread, including appropriate vehicle washdown procedures,” Mr Miller said.
“Powerlink has also looked into a claim of unauthorised land access and does not believe that such access occurred and is currently seeking to discuss the matter further with the property owner that made the complaint.
“Powerlink invites enquiries and input from affected landowners, stakeholders and members of the community. Community members can find more information at www.powerlink.com.au or on Freecall 1800 365 369.”