Decade-long water fight comes to an end
AFTER nearly 10 years of fighting, Hopeland farmers Col and Marcia Davis have been compensated for the loss of their water bores to the Coal Seam Gas industry.
The couple signed a "make good” agreement with Arrow Energy on June 28 for an undisclosed sum of money, allowing them to drill a new bore into the Hutton Aquifer, 783m below ground.
The new bore will secure the future of their farming business, which includes a 1550 Standard Cattle Unit feedlot and two piggeries totalling 5200 Standard Pig Units.
"It's a real relief,” Mr Davis said.
"The future looks brighter with all the water down there.”
The trouble began back in 2008 when the main water bore they used to supply water to their cattle feedlot and piggery, Wamba, began blowing gas intermittently.
They made do until January 2016, when their bore - the lifeblood of their farming operation - was rendered useless by the constant gushing of gas and water from underground.
While Arrow Energy does not have any active operations within 35km of the Davis' property, they do own the petroleum lease over the Davis' land, and are therefore responsible under state legislation to "make good” on the Davis' bore.
But that didn't stop the company from digging their heels in when it came to fixing the problem.
The Surat Basin News understands that industry insiders have been quietly furious over the Davis' treatment by Arrow Energy for some time now.
Back in 2016, Arrow Energy told the Davis' their bore was now a "safety issue” and offered to fence in the bore with cattle panels.
The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection even directed Arrow Energy to undertake an assessment of the four bores on the Davis property and enter into a make good agreement with the couple back in 2013.
Yet it has taken four long years of back and forth between the Davis' solicitors and the company for an agreement to be reached.
The struggle has taken a toll on the couple, both mentally and financially.
Before the September rains last year, they were four weeks away from running out of water completely - an untenable position for a feedlot and piggery operator, and one which they found themselves in through no fault of their own.
"I think it's a bit like anything that abuses you, you get tougher and tougher,” Mr Davis said of the protracted negotiations with Arrow Energy.
"It's a big invasion of your business.”
At several points, Mrs Davis said they felt like giving up.
"But only for a short space of time, and then you say, no, we've got to keep fighting for this because if we give up now, what are we going to do?”
Mr Davis said the issue was that Arrow Energy were happy to offer money as compensation, but not sign a "make good” agreement on the bore.
Then, just before Christmas 2016, the Davis' solicitor slipped a hint that the couple would take money as part of a make good agreement instead of a bore, Arrow Energy began making monetary offers.
"They didn't want the risk of drilling down and finding no water and having to drill again,” Mr Davis said.
Instead, the Davis' contracted local company Dynamic Drilling to drill a new bore, taking on that risk themselves.
Early indications last week were that the bore into the Hutton Aquifer will be a success.
In 2016, Mr Davis said the government needed to stand up and ensure the Coal Seam Gas industry complied with its obligations to landholders.
He said that changes to legislation in late 2016 had gone someway to addressing his earlier concerns.
"Water security has always been the issue for us,” Mr Davis said. "We're more optimistic about the future now.”