Monday, 2 December 2013

Progress in the Galilee Basin

The State Government has recently announced the development of "the Galilee Basin Development Strategy".  The strategy is aimed at the early development of the southern and central Galilee Basin which includes a proposal to streamline land acquisition.

The Government has proposed that it will create the Galilee Basin State Development Area ("GBSDA"), which will be over a large area which has not yet been defined. It is proposed that the rail corridors will then be constructed within the GBSDA. The Government has stated that "before considering compulsory land acquisitions the Government will strike the right balance between interests of stakeholders, including land holders and the community. It will encourage incremental expansion where feasible and ask proponents to minimise impact on land holders and the environment whenever possible."  It would seem, from these comments, that the Government will not initially resume the land and will encourage each proponent to enter into negotiations with the land holders. However, it is clear that if agreements cannot be reached between the relevant proponent and respective land holders, then the Government will use its power to compulsorily acquire land for the construction of the railway pursuant to the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act.

The Strategy indicates that the State Government will give consideration to whether it will declare the GBSDA in early 2014. This will then indicate the extent of the area of the GBSDA and the likely properties which will be affected.

For any advice or assistance in relation to the impact of the GBSDA, please contact Andrew Palmer or Justin Houlihan from local law firm Rees R & Sydney Jones on 07 4927 6333.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Drilling Wells – know the full impact first.

It all started when some nice bloke “from a property around here” had coffee with you one day and told you his company wanted to drill a couple of holes on your land – “down the back paddock, only about the size of half a basketball court, you won’t even know it’s there.”

This might be true once the well is completed, however during intensive construction, drilling occurs 24 hours a day and the drilling team needs a lot more space for all their gear, trucks, dongas and other equipment.  The more space the resource company takes up, the less space you have to run your business on.

It is very important to get as much information and detail as you can about what a resource company intends to do if they want to drill on your land - how long they need to do it (number of days); how much area they require; and how they will conduct themselves.  You should be able to receive detailed information for both the overall project and each stage of the activities. For example, the company may need to build a new road to get their well site.  They will have 1 bulldozer, 2 graders and 3 trucks, with 6 personnel, and will take 2 weeks to build their road at a rate of 500m/day.  The locations of the new tracks should be marked clearly on a map included in your agreement.   All company vehicles should be parked in a designated area.

The more detailed and more accurate the information you have available to you and included in your agreement, the better you can assess the true impact of the well (both lost income and day-to-day disturbances) and not be caught out with any surprises later on.  Be aware of the implications of lines such as “and any incidental activities necessary or convenient”.  If included in your agreement, six months down the track “convenient” for the company could be to lay a pipeline between two sites and you would not be able to claim more compensation for the additional disturbance. This is why is it important to have clear and concise terms in your agreement – exactly what the company can do, where they can do it and how long they have to get it done.

Being aware of what you are signing will ensure that you do not sacrifice your long term productivity, planning and sustainability.

Amy Gudmann is a solicitor in the Rural division at local law firm Rees R & Sydney Jones Solicitors.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Changes to Land Access Laws Update

There is currently a lot of activity in our region in regards to mining and gas. This article looks at the land access laws for resource exploration that you may not yet be aware of.

Why are resource companies allowed access to my land to take resources?

In most situations, the resources that are located under the land do not belong to landowners. The law states that they generally belong to the people of Queensland. So ownership of natural resources like gas, coal, gold and minerals that are underground do not transfer to a purchaser who is buying a property.

Can I stop a resource company from coming onto my land to look for resources?

Provided that they possess the relevant authority and the correct entry notices are given to you, a resource company can come onto your land upon giving 10 business days notice unless you waive this right under an agreement.  They can only do this though, to conduct what is known as “preliminary activities”.  The activities that are described as preliminary are generally relatively minor. Should they wish to engage in “advanced activity”, which basically is any activity that breaks the top soil on your land, they will be required to enter into a compensation agreement with you.

How do I know which companies have authority to access my land?

The Department of Natural Resources and Mines now allows landowners to conduct searches on the internet which display reports for free. This allows you to see who has the right to explore on your property. This is an important tool for you to determine exactly who may have rights associated with your land.

What if a resource company says they want to say drill on my land, can I stop them?

If a resource company wants to conduct activities on your land that will cause an impact to your business or land use, then they cannot start those activities until they have signed a contract with you for compensation. You are legally entitled to be compensated for any loss you suffer.

Can I just refuse to sign any contracts – will that stop them coming onto my land?

No, it won’t. If you simply refuse to negotiate, the resource company might take you to the Land Court. The resource company can only do this if they have given all the proper notices and tried, to a reasonable standard to negotiate with you. Once the Land Court has issued their orders about compensation, the resource company would then be able to come onto your land.

You can however seek advice to ensure that you have considered all options before signing the contract.  Under the laws relating to land access, if a resource company wants a compensation agreement with you, then they are required to pay for any reasonable legal, accounting and valuation fees that you incur in sorting out your agreements. It therefore makes good sense to see a professional as soon as you are approached by a resource company.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Vegetation Offsets: a means of generating additional income while effectively managing your land.

All too often these days, landowners are being approached by resource companies seeking access to conduct activities that may disturb the landholder's grazing or farming enterprise possibly having a lasting negative impact on the land.  Recently, however, we have been assisting some landowners to enter into a new type of arrangement with resource and infrastructure companies that compensate landholders for managing the vegetation on their land. The companies engage landowners to manage the vegetation on their land in accordance with a vegetation management plan.

If your land contains quality regrowth or remnant vegetation, offsets may prove beneficial to your enterprise. Generally, areas suitable for offsets need to:
1. be larger than two hectares in size;
2. adjoin existing remnant vegetation; and
3. contain minimal weeds.

Under the Law, companies undertaking an offset project are required to secure their offset.  To do so, they will seek to enter into a legal agreement with the owner of the land on which suitable vegetation is to be preserved and managed.   In order to establish an offset area, a resource company will require security for the offset, usually by way of registration of a voluntary declaration on title. Furthermore, for the term of the agreement there will be restrictions on how you use your land.
For advice or information on vegetation offsets or for the review of any documentation, please contact Sarah Bell or Andrew Palmer at Rees R & Sydney Jones Solicitors on (07) 4927 6333.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Chemical Use by Resource Companies

What are the implications if a resource company forgets to tell you about that patch of parthenium they sprayed last week and you’ve got no idea what the chemical is or what it does, or if there are any withholding periods?  Or what about that puddle of fraccing water that your cattle just walked through because of a burst pipe?  As a National Vendor Declaration (NVD) is a legal document, it must be filled in correctly to safeguard against being issued with serious penalties for supplying incorrect information.
The NVD asks questions about chemical residue, withholding periods and where your cattle have been grazing for the last 60 days.  Even though you know what chemicals you have on your property and you know where you’ve used them, what about the resource company? 

Resources companies should need to get your consent to chemical use before they start and it’s really important to have a clause covering chemical usage in your access agreement with the resource company.  A good access agreement will cover what happens if there is a problem and provide details of how to fix it.
Negotiating Access Agreements can be a time consuming exercise, but this is your life, your home and your livelihood – so it is well worth investing some time to make sure there are no major disruptions to your business and your income.

Anyone with questions or concerns about covering chemical usage in an access agreement, please feel free to contact Melanie Oliver or Amy Gudmann at Rees R & Sydney Jones Solicitors on (07) 4927 6333.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Conduct and Compensation Agreement Register?

Jeff Seeney has advised parliament that the Gasfield Commission would be a good place to register or database of Conduct and Compensation Agreements signed between landowners and resource companies.