A GAME of cat and mouse played out near Coonamble on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with farmers attempting to stop APA Group surveyors accessing their properties.
The surveyors were attempting to gather data to further a proposal to build a gas pipeline across the state to connect with existing pipelines in the state’s south.
The farmers demanded identification from the surveyors, who were on their land. A condition of the company’s authority to survey stipulates they must carry ID at all times.
When the ID was not forthcoming the farmers bailed the surveyors up, blocking their exit, and called the police.
Police stepped in to resolve the ensuing standoff, suggesting farmers let them leave.
An APA spokesman said: “APA respects the rights of people to have their say in a peaceful and safe manner. However, some instances of harassment and threatening behaviour over the past two days have been excessive and are the subject of ongoing discussions with police”.
The stoush developed about what the surveyors were allowed to do. Farmers say they were gathering data for an environmental impact statement relating to the pipeline’s construction.
This is not about Coonamble, it’s about protecting the Great Artesian Basin.
Farmers say such activities are not allowed and surveyors must stick purely to the proposed pipeline’s alignment.
It might seem a simple dispute with obvious right or wrong, but lawyers from both sides disagree.
And farmers are worried that if the pipeline proceeds, gas mining will follow in its wake. Farmer spokesman, Adam MacRae, said contamination and depressurisation of the Great Artesian Basin was what was really at stake.
“You’re talking about 1.7 million square kilometres, 22 per cent of the Australian landmass, here. “This is not about Coonamble, it’s about protecting the Great Artesian Basin. You’ve got a choice of food or fuel, we can grow food here forever, they want access to a finite resource.
“They exhaust it in say, 30 to 50 years, and then they’re gone. And what are they doing with the gas anyway? They’re exporting an unknown percentage of it.”
APA maintains it is within its rights to study the potential environmental impacts of building the pipeline, but lawyers acting for farmers say the company has pushed beyond very narrow operating parameters.