Locals say no to gas.
Locals say no to gas. Patrick Gorbunovs

The Battle of Bentley

THREE days shy of 2014, a 30-strong group of gasfield-free activists met at sunrise with the intention to prepare the grounds for "the biggest battle Northern Rivers has ever seen" near Metgasco's proposed Rosella E01 well site, 12 km north-east of Casino.

Even above the activists' brush-cutters and ride-ons, a steady chorus of vehicles honked in approval to the newly erected "gasfield-free" signs visible from Bentley Rd.

From tinny hatchback "meeps" to deep trucker's "honks", the vehicles reflected the varied 87% of Northern Rivers residents against gas mining, according to Ian Gaillard.

"This is a pivotal play for Metgasco," said Mr Gaillard, who believes the Rosella well is a "desperate attempt" at securing the Northern Rivers.

"They are a speculative miner who have already made their play and they have made a mistake," he said.

"They only have $20million to drill a large well and to provide logistical support for that."

"If Metgasco goes ahead, they need to consider an exit strategy," he warned.

"Metgasco has come to the wrong place," warned Lock The Gate regional coordinator Ian Gaillard.

"We have on our side large numbers who don't want it at all."

However, the gas-field free activists are far from jubilant about the months ahead. Touted as the "showdown which no side can afford to lose", the potential for a desperate stand-off is unlike any Northern Rivers gas activists have encountered.

Metgasco reiterated last month its intention to start exploratory drilling at the well in the first half of 2014, targeting March or April 2014.

The speculative miner also confirmed the plans for the site were progressing with drilling management and engineering resources confirmed.

Gasfield-free activist and educator Aiden Ricketts, said the emphasis now, for the safety of everyone concerned, should be lobbying the State Government to prevent a showdown.

"The police don't want a showdown. The only sensible thing is for Metgasco to consider its exit strategy."

The site's turn-off on Bentley Road is a notorious hotspot for heavy vehicles exceeding the 100km speed limit after the crest.

Add to the mix heavy vehicles hauling machinery, police, and two sides who can't afford to lose, and the potential for danger is ominous, observed both Mr Ricketts and Mr Gaillard.

Given her rural status, landholder Kim Curtis, who lives within 2kms of the well, does not qualify for the 2km buffer exclusion zone, rolled out much to Metgasco's chagrin in October.

Mrs Curtis, who has two young children, said she was concerned for their health and that of her animals.

"I've spoken to Brian Monk and seen the devastating health impacts of the children of Tara."

"I'm concerned about the impact of the drilling noise on my cattle. I can't stand back and let it happen," she said. "This is prime agricultural land. This is why we live here," she added.

Along with other bee-keeper neighbours Mrs Curtis said she was also alarmed about the impact that any potential contaminated containment ponds may have.

Sensitive creatures, bees naturally gravitate to water, explained neighbours.

The drill site is owned by father and son limousin cattle breeders Robbie and Peter Graham.

The fifth generation farmers, who have owned the 275 hectare property for 20 years and who have consistently been supportive of a gas industry in The Northern Rivers, declined to comment on the proposed well, citing the potential for violent recriminations from gasfield activists.

Mr Ricketts explained Metgasco's Achilles' heel.

"The big weakness in Metgasco's business model is that they are almost 100% dependent upon establishing gasfields and pipelines in the Northern Rivers to succeed."

With only $20 million to fund the project, the onus is on the miner to swiftly show shareholders the potential of the well.

A frack by any other name

THE Battle of Bentley will be a semantic dispute as much as anything else.

According to the Metgasco press statement, the Rosella E01 well, located at the site of a disused quarry but surrounded by prime agricultural land, is a "conventional gas exploration well".

According to the speculative mining company, "Rosella E01 is a commercially high-risk well planned to test the non-CSG potential of the Greater Mackellar structure and follows the discovery of tight gas in the Kingfisher E01 well in late 2009.

"In a high side success case, the Greater Mackellar structure could contain volumes of gas which are significant for Metgasco and NSW."

However, gasfield-free activists are concerned that the public is being duped by language, and maintain that the mining company's recorded intention to discover "tight gas" means the extraction methods are anything but conventional.

Don't mention the CS-word

ADDING to the language confusion is the fact that at The Battle Of Bentley, the term CSG is redundant.

Protectors at Bentley - so accustomed to aligning themselves with the CSG-free movement that held off Doubtful Creek - have to make a concerted effort to stop themselves mid-CS, when referring to the battle ahead.

So what exactly is going on at Rosella and how can we get the wording right?

Gasfield-Free activist Judi Emmett, of Keerrong Gas Squad, explained in a recent letter to The Echo the linguistic confusion, echoing the sentiments of many of her gasfield-free allies.

"There are two types of natural gas - conventional gas and unconventional gas (or invasive gas). Both occur naturally underground - what sets them apart is the extraction methods used to access the resource," she said.

"Conventional gas when tapped flows freely. Unconventional or invasive gas requires 'fracking' to release the gas.

"Coal seam gas, tight sands gas and shale gas all require fracking - this means the use of toxic chemicals, the destruction of underground structures, the consumption of massive volumes of precious water and the contamination of our water supplies.

Tight Gas defined

TIGHT Gas is gas that is located in low permeability, low porosity sandstone or limestone reservoirs.

Conventional (or natural) gas is also found in sandstone reservoirs, but unlike conventional gas, which flows freely after drilling, tight gas is difficult to extract.

Tight gas production requires hazardous extraction processes like hydraulic fracturing and acidation. Tight gas always needs large hydraulic fracturing treatments to extract commercial quantities of gas.

Fracking involves pumping large volumes of water, chemicals, and sand, into the ground to "stimulate" gas flow. Tight gas wells usually decline rapidly and require multiple fracking treatments and specialised fracking fluids to maintain gas production.

Name change

LAST month the regional alliance of anti-gas community groups, CSG-Free Northern Rivers, announced a formal name change to Gasfield-Free Northern Rivers.

This change was made in response to the threat of other forms of invasive gas mining in the region in addition to CSG, including tight sands gas.

The name change recognises that whatever the type of unconventional gas extraction, the same harmful impacts will be incurred, including the wholesale industrialisation of rural and natural landscapes in the region.

"This name change reflects our united purpose in the Northern Rivers to prevent the establishment of invasive industrial gasfields in our beautiful and productive region," said spokesperson Ian Gaillard.

"It pays tribute to the 122 communities in the region that have declared themselves gasfield-free and it reflects the huge levels of opposition to gasfield development in all of the local government areas of the Northern Rivers.

"It is also a timely response to attempts by government and industry to play word games by changing the name of coal seam gas or by using terms like 'natural gas' or 'conventional gas' to make this industry seem less threatening.

"What we and the communities of the Northern Rivers are clear about is that the real issue is not the type of gas, it's the invasive industrial gasfields that are necessary to extract and transport it."

Metgasco has announced it will be targeting tight gas in upcoming drilling activities.

The company states that the Rosella exploration well at Bentley is targeting tight gas in the Gatton Sandstone formation and looking to the "confirm tight gas potential in the broader exploration area".

"The change of name to Gasfield-Free Northern Rivers sends a very clear message to Metgasco and the state government that the community is not duped by these falsehoods," Mr Gaillard said.

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