A Hunter landholder has warned the future of natural gas in the region is no brighter now than when the industry abandoned its final prospects last year, despite federal politicians debating whether to reignite the sector.
Speaking to ABC Radio last week, Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said he wanted to work with states that did not support the industry, including NSW, to increase gas production.
“They need to understand that more gas means more jobs, means lower electricity prices and means a more stable system,” he said.
But Lower Belford’s Matt Johnston, known for hosting the Gum Ball music festival at his family property, said the government would find plenty of opposition in the Hunter Region.
It’s like a race to secure one’s rights over the other's. And there’s still opportunity here to make money at the expense of land and water.Matt Johnston
“I’m highly concerned [by the government’s comments],” he said. “Mining supports a lot of people, but it’ll tear the guts out of this area. Across the road we have the vineyards, we had the horses at risk [from mine expansion] at Drayton South. There won’t be much left in the Hunter untouched by mining. We have to hang on to what we’ve got.”
Mr Johnston said many landholders around his part of the valley had been particularly concerned by the potential for gas wells to be hydraulic fractured, or fracked.
According to the NSW Department of Industry, Resources and Energy, a well was drilled a few kilometres from Mr Johnston’s home in 2008. While the Belford well was never fracked, others in nearby Broke were.
“It’s like a race to secure one’s rights over the other’s,” Mr Johnston said.
“And there’s still opportunity here to make money at the expense of land and water.”
Across the Hunter and Clarence valleys, dozens of wells have been drilled by numerous companies and many produced gas.
In 2015 the state government bought back a series of Petroleum Exploration Licenses, located between Maitland and Muswellbrook, from companies that had walked away from natural gas exploration.
In February, 2016, AGL announced it would pull out of Gloucester, the industry’s final foothold in the region.