Growers unite over gas mining

LOCAL farming groups are lobbying the NSW Minister for Primary Industries in a unified effort to keep coal seam gas out of the Griffith region.

The Area News reported on Monday the director of Grainger Energy Pty Ltd, Vaughn Cullen, believed there was a valid business model to apply for petroleum exploration licences to search for coal seam gas.

In response to Mr Cullen's applications the Riverina Wine Grapes Marketing Board (WGMB) has followed the lead of the Ricegrowers' Association by requesting Katrina Hodgkinson declare Griffith and surrounds off limits to gas companies.

Under state legislation, areas with highly productive industries that boost employment and contribute to the identity of the region may be deemed "critical industry clusters" which attract extra protections and exclusion zones.

The Upper Hunter region has already been granted such protections on the basis of its equine and viticulture industries, giving local industry hope.

Ricegrowers' Association executive director Ruth Wade was told by Minister Hodgkinson in August last year the local rice industry would meet the critical industry cluster criteria but as there wasn't an imminent coal seam gas threat, she wouldn't issue the protection.

Mrs Wade said she had received mixed messages from different government departments so she wrote to Minister Hodgkinson for clarification about how to proceed now that petroleum exploration was on the horizon. "In the really intensive areas around Griffith and Leeton, we would say pretty much all irrigation farms are managed infrastructure that are not compatible with coal seam gas exploration," Mrs Wade said.

"If we qualify as a critical industry cluster that would remove any need for further action.

"You just can't bring vehicles in and drop drill wells down without impinging with irrigation infrastructure."

The WGMB is in the process of drafting a similar letter with the aid of the Ricegrowers' Association and the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association. "We will be getting help from the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association so we can learn from any mistakes they may have made and find out how they were successful in gaining the critical industry cluster protection," she said.

"The NSW Irrigators' Council tried to apply for the protection on behalf of all irrigation industries but it was knocked back."

because it must be submitted on an a specific commodity basis, which is why we have to represent local grape growers."

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