In a nation buffeted by recurring droughts, it is not surprising that public anxiety about the gas industry has grown dramatically as the energy sector has stepped into highly productive agricultural regions.
The industry says it has been producing coal seam gas in Australia for 15 years and that better science and safety measures mean that water quality and supply will not be affected.
Meanwhile, farmers are pressing the government to undertake research on gas drilling’s effects on water supply and the treatment of the large quantities of wastewater produced. Moreover, farmers and environmentalists — once unlikely partners — are forming coalitions to respond to the new risks to water supply, now that the energy industry has entered the arena as a stakeholder.
Nowhere have the interests of Australia’s two primary industries — agriculture and energy — clashed more heavily in recent years than in the Liverpool Plains of northwestern New South Wales. Just outside the Hunter Valley, the region is endowed with rich black soil, good climate, and generations of farming ethos that make it some of the best agricultural land in Australia.
Nearby, Duddy’s cousin Rosemary Nankivell — a farmer here in the Liverpool Plains, with 2,200 hectares (5,400 acres) of land and 1,000 heads of cattle — is busy typing e-mails, posting Twitter updates, reading Google alerts, and writing statements to the government, the energy industry, and the farming community.