Penny Blatchford, wife, farmer and accidental activist joins me to talk about Coal Seam Gas and farmers rights… or lack of.

Can one early Sunday morning phone call really change the direction of your life? I guess looking back and reflecting on what was the trigger one simple act by someone that was unknown to me has changed my life forever. It has also changed my families life,  the community in which I live and in a broader sense communities across NSW and Australia.

I will never forget that Sunday morning 26th June 2011 8.20 am as I relaxed in bed  hearing my husband answer the phone and ask “where do you want to drill for gas”? with shock in his voice. The phone call was from a lady representing a mining company asking to explore and drill for coal seam gas on our property.  Two sites in fact. She was eager to get an access agreement, gave out details of our property, our neighbours  and said they would just place the exploration site somewhere in scrubby bushland in a place we did not care about.

Did not care about? What farmer does not care about all parts of their property?


I grew up in Bellata – my parents are farmers, my Dads parents were farmers. Long story but in short, I  married my next door neighbour and now farm with my husband Robert and three young children between Gurley and Bellata – down the road from Mum and Dad and one of my sisters.

The two villages can be found along the Newell Highway between Moree and Narrabri in North West NSW. The iconic features being the huge grain storage silos as you drive past. The farmland at Bellata to the east is at the foothills of the Nandewar Ranges. The farming area is undulating, sloping country flattening out as you reach the Newell and beyond to the west. The soils are heavy black clay vertosols. The Bellata district is renowned for being one of the most productive agricultural areas in Australia, and produces high quality durum wheat which is well known throughout the World. The area forms part of the Golden Triangle  and farms here produce all year round on dryland cropping systems.

aerial bellataWe knew that the mining companies had approached farmers on another road, but all had said no thank you. However this time the company was keen to get something done. Our community had organised one public meeting and was getting itself informed. But the phone calls created a new round of panic and after several more meetings with local landholders in the petroleum exploration licenced area now well known across NSW as PEL470 the Bellata Gurley Action Group Against Gas was formed. Me as its Chairperson. Our community has had many meetings over the past three years together, with politicians, government, media, solicitors, soil scientists and environmentalists. And also had to raise thousands of dollars to fund our fight.

alan jones     Meeting Alan Jones after the Gunnedah Food Security Forum 12th October 2011

Note: Alan has provided me a fantastic & unique platform for getting our message across to the public and government and has interviewed me now several  times with respect to PEL470 our home battle as well as on amendments to government legislation and policies for greater balance especially for farmers which I have been lobbying for.

I have learnt this past three years never underestimate the power of the media and isolation is no barrier.

We (the Bellata Gurley Action Group Against Gas) presented during this time a sophisticated and well researched document as to why the licence on expiry should  not be renewed and cancelled in its entirety . The NSW Government ignored the community, the importance of the agricultural industry, the risk to the soils and water from coal seam gas and its infrastructure and renewed the licence.

ABC 7.30 Report Stateline 27.04.2012

This is the only time I have cried. I have never felt such disappointment & been so disillusioned by our elected representatives. However, the support for PEL470, for our community of farmers has continued right across Australia. We are the first and remain the only PEL in Australia to have every single landholder, 100% support the document and for the land not to be explored and mined. A clear signal was sent to the mining company and the Government the community of Bellata and Gurley should  not be underestimated.

No social licence exists. And never underestimate the “farmers wife” (there are lots of us!) the wives that have been forced to become “accidental activists”.


Farmers united in battle against coal seam gas mining at Bellata/Gurley PEL470 July 20th  2011

 The good news came in 2013 that the explorer had retreated and pulled out of NSW so for the short term no coal seam gas exploration and mining will be going ahead in PEL470 at Bellata and Gurley. The  PEL470 licence expiry is 2018. However, the laws and regulations and the policies and procedures are not balanced especially for landholders of which I will continue to lobby for and have not reached a point where the community is satisfied that agriculture can co-exist with mining. One industry should  never be allowed to undermine an existing productive vital industry. So I have put my heart and soul into lobbying for change – along with many others in NSW and right across Australia. You would think living seven hours from Sydney and far more to Canberra that isolation would or could be a barrier to achieving change.

milneLobbying in Canberra alongside Leader of the Greens & Senator Christine Milne and Qld Senator for the Greens Larissa Waters  “for farmers right to say no to coal seam gas and mining on their land as well as support for the water trigger amendment in the Federal Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act  (EPBC) 29th May 2013.


This is not so. At the end of June this year I  learnt first hand the power of the internet and media in all forms (email, radio, TV, twitter, facebook) and what can be achieved from behind a computer on a farm in Gurley. I called the week of June 17 2013 the “perfect storm”.

The NSW Government had proposed amendments to the Petroleum Onshore Act 1991 (NSW) and was rushing the changes through the NSW Parliament without any public consultation or proper debate. SERIOUS ALARM BELLS RINGING! (this was not the second time)

After writing a media release (I have been working with Lock the Gate) and speaking on Sydney & local radio about the consequences of the Amendments and how farmers and communities would be affected  by the changes.

ABC 7.30 Report 21.06.2013 –

The community across NSW reacted, jumped on their computers and phones and lobbied for the amendments to be dismissed or a complete rethink. With unprecedented pressure from the public and the Legislative Council cross benchers, the NSW Government pulled the Bill. And the reality is you could have probably counted on two hands how many people actually had to enter Parliament House to achieve this outcome.

Isolation is no barrier to change and achievement.

 Penny Blatchford was awarded the National Volunteer Award Parkes Electorate – Environment Award 2012 presented February 2013 by MP Mark Coulton in Moree.

Pink Surfboard links:

Pink surfboard conundrum: calculating risk v social licence to operate

Lock the Gate & Call to Country links

links to ABC 7.30 Report

ABC 7.30 Report Stateline 27.04.2012


ABC 7.30 Report 21.06.2013