Gas exploration leaves locals with a bad smell

DESPITE some remedial action, a neighbour of Beach Energy's Jolly-1 exploration drilling site south of Penola is still unhappy about the smell.

Farmer Neil Copping, whose fence line is 60m north of the drilling rig, has noticed a sulphur-like smell, similar to rotten eggs, for the last couple of weeks coming from a holding pond on the site.

"When the wind blows onto my farm it's pretty strong," he told the Herald last week. "That's when you get any kind of wind from the south."

Mr Copping spoke with Beach Energy, the company doing the drilling, and they said they'd do something about the smell - but there's only been a minor improvement.

"I'd say it was a nine (out of 10) and now it's a six or seven," he said. "It's not as bad as it was.

"You can see there's more water in it (the holding pond) now."

The Herald visited Mr Copping's property last Friday but the wind was blowing away from the fence line so no smell registered.

Beach Energy chief operating officer Neil Gibbins attributed the smell to "biodegradation in drilling mud", with the company using recycled water in the process of drilling.

He said the company had started using more water in an effort to clear the smell.

Mr Gibbins dismissed the possibility of the smell being hydrogen sulphide - explaining the company monitors for chemicals like that for environmental reasons and the safety of its staff on-site.

Mr Copping and Mr Gibbins met face-to-face on March 11 in Penola to discuss the issue further.

The local farmer was mostly satisfied with the company's assurances the smell was not a result of harmful chemicals in the air.

"I have to take what they told me in good faith," Mr Copping said.

He expressed a cautious view towards the drilling - worried one mistake in the process could cause a severe reduction in bore pressure or even contamination of water supply in the region..

"I'd prefer a moratorium (on unconventional gas exploration)," he said. "Or at least a parliamentary inquiry into it."

Mr Copping suggested there needed to be a better system than the current one where the State Government issues licenses, regulates the practices of mining companies and receives royalties from the product - to "keep them honest".

Mr Gibbins said things were wrapping up at the site adjoining Mr Copping's property.

Drilling has reached target depth and core samples have been taken to Adelaide for testing - which will take about six months.

In the meantime the site will be made secure and the rig will be moved to Beach's second site - north of Penola.

Mr Gibbins said if a good result came from the testing of samples it was likely the controversial method of fracture stimulation would be used to extract gas. But that decision has not been made yet, and further community consultation was needed for it to be used.

Beach Energy plans to be at the SE Field Days this weekend to answer any questions.

Seeking to further allay concerns about any chemicals used by the company, Mr Gibbins said details were available on the Beach website in its annual report.

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