By Katherine Smyrk
When a local Yarragon man was offered $500 by a gas company for the right to drill on his property, he was probably not expecting this.
Dismayed at the sight of drill rigs rolling through town, a group of residents decided to go down and give them him a piece of their mind.
The drilling, which started on October 29, was being conducted by DrillTech on behalf of Greenpower Natural Gas Pty Ltd on the private property of a local shed builder.
The 120-strong crowd was a sea of yellow triangles, with those ubiquitous signs proclaiming ‘Lock the Gate’.
Although there is currently a state government moratorium on the process of fracking, other exploration works such as drilling and flaring off are still allowed to continue.
The reality of this hit Yarragon when they saw that drilling was taking place just metres from neighbouring businesses and a little over 100 metres from the main street.
The company holds a license that allows them to explore for coal seam gas and brown coal. Locals are just as concerned that new experimental coal technologies such as underground coal gasification (UCG) would be used, which involves igniting a coal seam underground and pumping out the gas that is released.
The Department of Environment Resource Management recently had to shut down a UCG project by Cougar Energy in Queensland after the discovery that local water bores had become polluted with carcinogens.
Reassurance of protection won’t be coming any time soon from the State Government, with the government refusing to extend the moratorium to all coal and unconventional gas projects, and Energy Minister Nick Kotsiras yet to fulfill his promise of a community consultation process.
Meanwhile, the drilling is allowed on private property and local farmers and residents have to sit and watch while their livelihoods are put at risk.
Yarragon has thriving tourism and agriculture industries, with a horse stud breeder located 200 metres from the drill site.
The swift response of the locals shows that this community want to fight to protect their land, but not a lot can be done if private property owners allow the companies through the gate.
The development of coal or unconventional gas would be a risk to vital farmland, underground water supplies and the health of the community. This incredibly important issue should not be allowed to be decided by one or two land-owners.
And as residents put yellow signs on their fences, as the drills plunge into the ground, as the threat to Victorian communities gets more and more real, the state government is, yet again, missing in action.