Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has warned his federal colleagues that the party will not allow wholesale coal-seam gas mining across prime agricultural land, but says farming and mining “can exist in balance and should be considered on a case-by-case basis”.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s comments put him at odds with his Victorian counterparts, who support the state government ban on the controversial mining, despite widespread criticism it is limiting supply and driving up gas prices.
Mr Joyce told The Australian his federal party colleagues “don’t believe in destroying prime agricultural land, it’s a premier asset”.
“We don’t destroy aquifers because they are a common asset but we believe the farmer must get a fair return so they are measurably further ahead than they were prior to their involvement in the coal-seam gas industry,” he said.
“The right of the land holder, the preservation of prime agricultural land, the protection of aquifers and the need to expand the economy can exist in balance and should be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
The Turnbull government is considering additional incentives to open up regional land for coal-seam gas mining.
Last week, federal Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos specifically suggested that money could be “provided to individuals, for example farmers on whose land you might find the gas”, to prevent a looming shortage.
Mr Joyce’s comments come during a period of intense debate about the future of gas supply, with federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg continuing to push Victoria and NSW to lift moratoriums and restrictions on new projects.
The Berejiklian government is set to move to a “case-by-case” evaluation system for new gas projects, while energy giant Santos last week formally lodged plans for work that could provide half of the state’s gas needs.
NSW currently allows exploration on 8 per cent of the state.
The Victorian Coalition is backing an Andrews government push to ban fracking and extend a moratorium on conventional gas development until 2020, with a bill debated yesterday and expected to be passed tomorrow.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and state Nationals leader Peter Walsh, in a joint statement, boasted that “fracking had never occurred under a Liberal-National government”, but are pushing for the recommencement of conventional gas mining in the state after 2020. “The energy sector needs to work with rural communities and have a sensible discussion about the use of conventional gas beyond the expiration of the moratorium in 2020,” the statement reads.
The Victorian Farmers Federation back the ban, which president David Jochinke said was a “great outcome for our farmers because the true impact of onshore gas mining is still unknown”.
But the energy industry is warning that the ban would “ripple through the Victorian economy for many years to come”.
Shell chairman Andrew Smith said Labor and the Coalition “continued to cave in to activists and ignore the scientific data that unconventional gas development can beneficially co-exist with agriculture”.
“Without additional gas production, spikes in energy prices will continue to hurt Victorian consumers and manufacturers,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Frydenberg is also backing a case-by-case approach, and said it was important for “environmental and economic factors to be considered as appropriate”.