Community engagement: AGL’s experience at the Camden Gas Project

AGL’s Head of Land and Approvals, Suzanne Westgate.

AGL’s Head of Land and Approvals, Suzanne Westgate.

The Camden Gas Project, situated in the Macarthur region, southwest of Sydney, has been supplying around five per cent of the state’s gas since 2001, cohesively operating alongside the local community. Gas Today takes a look at AGL Energy’s approach to community engagement at the project.

The fact that AGL does not own any land in the Camden region means that maintaining positive landholder relationships has been vital for the ongoing operation of the Camden Gas Project.

The project, which has 144 wells, 96 of which are producing, has been operating safely since 2001, with the Rosalind Park Gas Plant as the central element where natural gas is collected via low pressure underground gathering lines, processed and transmitted into the natural gas network.

Throughout the project’s life, AGL has signed access agreements with dairy farmers, cattle farmers, horse studs, business owners and some residential developers.

AGL’s Head of Land and Approvals, Suzanne Westgate, says the company is proud of these relationships.

“Our priority is to be a good tenant, neighbour and community member, ensuring our operations peacefully and successfully co-exist with the communities and landholders we work with,” Ms Westgate says.

“As part of our land and approvals team we employ local managers, all of whom have farming experience themselves, to act as our day-to-day liaison points with local landholders.”

Support in tough times

Compensation forms an important part of access agreements, which are required prior to landowners granting permission to gas companies to access their property to drill for gas.

As part of the access and compensation agreement, the landowner is compensated for any disturbance during construction and is generally paid annually on an individual well basis.

The level of compensation is dependent upon the type of activity being undertaken, however AGL’s compensation principles includes the payment of the landowner’s time; reasonable costs for professional services including legal and valuation; initial works payments for disturbance during construction; and, annual compensation based upon a rental fee of the disturbed area which takes into account land value and land use.

Ms Westgate says that a key benefit for landholders working alongside industry is the financial support that this compensation for land access can provide in times of drought, while also contributing to maintenance and repair costs.

“Compensation is considered by many landowners as a guaranteed income stream for the duration of the well life,” Ms Westgate says.

“Landowners see this as being beneficial as it supplements their income, particularly through times of drought.

“Apart from financial contributions, the operators in the gas industry can often provide improvements to the land, for example access roads, fencing and water bores.”

AGL currently has more than 50 agreements in place across its Camden and Gloucester Gas Projects in NSW.

The benefit of shared knowledge

Another benefit of positive relationships between gas companies and landowners is that reciprocal information sharing between the landholder and industry can serve to guide best practice for industry and the landholder in sustainably harnessing value from the natural resources.

These matters can include land management techniques, land types and geology, regional environmental values and rehabilitation.

The development of rapport and trust between the company and landowners is crucial to maintaining positive relationships, which Ms Westgate says are developed through acquiring a comprehensive knowledge of the landowner’s operations through direct communication, and being respectful of privacy and the landowner’s way of life.

“This approach ensures that any impacts or issues are identified early in the relationship and allows for protocols to be jointly established for access to the land. Minimal impact to the landowner and their assets is the primary consideration.”

Ms Westgate says that the company representative should be the main point of contact for the landowner in order to ensure a clear channel of communication as circumstances change throughout the life of a project.

“An example may be a change in staff or the sale of land. Therefore it is important to diligently manage change and recognise that the requirements for different landowners vary,” Ms Westgate says.

“AGL has in place land access protocols that document the terms of access as agreed between the landowner and AGL.

“The land access protocols are a key reference for AGL employees and contractors to be aware of the individual landowner access requirements.

“AGL understands that it can be very frustrating for a landowner if the terms of access are not adhered to, and the protocols assist in maintaining a positive landholder relationship.”

In line with this approach to landholder relations, AGL also signed a landmark agreement with the Country Women’s Association and Dairy Connect on CSG land access in September 2015.

The principles state:

  • Any landowner must be allowed to freely express their views on the type of drilling operations that should or should not take place on their land without criticism, pressure, harassment or intimidation. Any landholder is at liberty to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the conduct of operation on their land.
  • Gas companies confirm that they will respect the landowner’s wishes and not enter onto a landowner’s property to conduct drilling operations where that landowner has clearly expressed the view that operations on their property would be unwelcome.
  • The parties will uphold the landowner’s decision to allow access for drilling operations and do not support attempts by third party groups to interfere with any agreed operations. The parties condemn bullying, harassment and intimidation in relation to agreed drilling operations.

At the time of the agreement, AGL CEO and Managing Director Andy Vesey said “These principles reinforce AGL’s longstanding approach to working cooperatively with landholders and the communities where we work and live, in relation to our natural gas drilling operations.”

As the success of CSG projects depends on the relationships that are developed with the landowners who host exploration and production activities on their land, maintaining such positive relationships should be a key priority for Australia’s gas industry moving forward.

AGL’s landholder access principles

  • Act with honesty and integrity
  • Pay reasonable legal costs incurred by the landholder and compensation for their time
  • Pay the landholder fair and equitable annual compensation for the use of their land
  • Respect the landholder and their land
  • Protect the landholder’s water resources
  • Carry out operations in accordance with best practice safety standards

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