On Friday farmers in the Bellata area, near Moree in north-west NSW, received a letter in the mail from coal seam gas companies Leichardt Resources and Planet Gas, formally serving notice that they would be seeking an access agreement to drill for coal seam gas on their land.
The last line of the letter states that "If, after 28 days of submission of this initial notice an agreement cannot be reached, an arbitrator will be appointed to resolve any issues relating to access after this period".
President of the Lock the Gate Alliance Drew Hutton said this would provoke the opening of the non-cooperation campaign in NSW in which farmers locked their gates and refused to negotiate access to mining companies.
Mr Hutton also said Planet Gas's approach to farmers exposes the NSW Government's so-called moratorium on coal seam gas exploration for the sham that it is and puts local farmers around Bellata, Gurney and Terry Hie Hie in a terrible position.
"We have seen first- hand in Queensland what happens when coal seam gas companies get access to prime agricultural land – farmers lose control of their property, their precious water resources are put at risk, and productive areas are alienated," Mr Hutton said.
"Coal seam gas represents a massive threat to the black soil plains of the Moree Shire, one of our most important food producing areas. It's also a major threat to the Great Artesian Basin and to the hot artesian baths at Moree which are one of our most iconic inland tourist attractions.
"The Moree Shire Council has recognised the risks and put a moratorium on drilling on Council-owned land, but the NSW Government has effectively abandoned these farmers to face the gas companies alone.
"The Lock the Gate Alliance is right behind the farmers at Bellata, Gurney and Terry Hie Hie, and we are determined to fight with them to prevent the gas companies accessing their land against their wishes.
"We will be advising all landowners to lock their gates to Planet Gas, because we know that once a gas company has access there is no turning back. Before they know it, these farmers will be facing a gigantic gas field on their back doorstep which will change their way of life forever.
"If the gas companies try to take the Bellata farmers to arbitration, and make them sign an access agreement against their will, then we will be with them all the way.
"This is a battle for the future of rural Australia, and we will stand with farmers to choose food and agriculture over an industrial gas wasteland until the battle is won."
Drew Hutton is planning to travel to Bellata in the near future to help coordinate the Lock the Gate campaign in the district.