Family fights for well site compo

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Dongara growers Rod and Annette Copeland face a legal battle with oil and gas company Arc Energy over land access and compensation.

Arc Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of AWE, last month issued a summons for Mr Copeland to appear before Geraldton Magistrates Court on October 23.

AWE's first gas well in the Dongara area, Yardarino 1, is on the Copelands' farm.

The well was established in 1963 and produced gas from the 1970s to the 2000s.

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In 2009, AWE decided to plug and abandon the well.

In late 2011, after repeated attempts to reach a solution between the two parties, Mr Copeland told AWE he would not allow the company access until an appropriate agreement was in place.

"We have never signed an agreement with AWE. They presented one to us in 2009 which was completely unsatisfactory," he said.

"Since June 2010 we have requested three new agreements from AWE.

"In October 2010 they got back to us and said a new agreement would be unnecessary because there was no point in starting negotiations for an access agreement for the short period they would remain at this site.

"It is now October 2012 and all they've done in the interim is made a bloody mess here.

"They started cleaning it up and walked away from it."

Nationals WA leader Brendon Grylls visited Mr Copeland's farm in June this year to examine the site.

At the time Mr Grylls said AWE was "not being a good corporate citizen" and set a bad example for positive co-existence between the gas industry and agriculture.

Mr Copeland said his two other proposals for access agreements since 2010 had been unanswered.

"We have always had the stance that we will grant access once compensation is agreed to and an agreement is settled between both parties," he said.

"We've made three requests but they've only ever responded to one. Now, because they want to get here when it suits them, they are trying to ram it through the courts."

Mr Copeland said AWE had promised to clear and rehabilitate the well site but had not done so while the company had the chance.

"They have been here twice and got started on the clean-up. They then nominated four other occasions when they would finish the work but they never have," he said.

Mr Copeland's lawyer, Philip Brunner, said the issue was about AWE's obligation to rehabilitate the site and meet compensation arrangements.

"The issue at the moment is one of payment of compensation for past access and the determination of compensation for the contemplated rehabilitation," he said.

The Copelands purchased the 40-hectare property east of Dongara in 1988 and agreed to continue an agreement with the company that owned the well at the time, WA Petroleum.

WA Petroleum was the initial operator of the field.

Mr Copeland said he believed the well was in use in the 1990s.

In 1998 Arc Energy took over the well and continued compensation payments to the Copelands.

Arc was taken over by AWE in 2008, which was when Mr Copeland said "the trouble really began".

"We had a good working rapport with Arc before AWE took it over but since AWE came along it has all gone to mud," he said.

As a fruit and vegetable producer, Mr Copeland said he was losing substantial income from the existence of the well site.

"If I put zucchinis into the 9000sqm area this year I would have made in excess of $80,000 gross," he said. "If I planted rockmelons there in April to May 2012 I could have made in excess of $80,000 for the price we were receiving at that time.

"This is providing the site had been property rehabilitated and soil nutrients lifted to the appropriate levels for our industry."

AWE was contacted for comment but a spokesman said the company was unable to respond because the matter was before the court.

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