ENERGY giant Santos has been accused of bullying landowners along the proposed Hunter Gas Pipeline route into allowing access to their land.
It comes as preparations to progress the controversial project ramp up with a new round of community consultations in the Hunter this week.
Numerous landowners recently received letters from Santos that refer to visits and communication with the company that the landowners say have not occurred.
The former state government issued Santos with an Authority to Survey notice in January. It gives the company the right to conduct surveys and testing on affected properties even if landholders do not give consent.
The Environmental Defenders Office is providing advice to landholders affected by the notice to protect their legal rights and interests.
Reedy Creek resident Karen Stafford received a letter in a handwritten envelope last week that stated Santos would seek to finalise arrangements to survey her property.
If the project proceeds it would cut across the bottom of Ms Stafford's 13 hectare cattle and sheep property.
"It would cut through three of my five paddocks; I would lose a lot of land," she said.
Ms Stafford, a member of the Hunter Gas Landholder Rights Alliance group, is refusing to allow her land to be surveyed.
"Mentally it's distressing, it's so horrible. Nobody around here wants it," she said.
"We have had to put biosecurity signs on our gate to keep them [Santos] off our property."
Virginia Congdon and her partner Geoff Thompson received a similar letter advising that Santos staff from the land access team recently visited their Westbrook property.
"I don't know what they are talking about. They have never been here," Ms Congdon said.
The letter said the team would return in coming weeks to discuss a suitable time for survey works to occur.
Maps indicate the pipeline would run along the outside perimeter of the couple's 40 hectare hobby farm, however, a 200 metre wide easement would fall inside the property boundary.
Ms Congdon said she would ask the Santos representatives to leave if they approached.
"We are not interested. They will be asked to leave very politely," she said.
The Santos letter said the company sought to reach agreements with all affected landowners, but also inferred the survey work would ultimately proceed.
"If we do not receive any feedback from you in relation to the route or project, the finalisation of the route will continue to progress based on the approved alignment," the letter says.
In addition to the potential economic losses resulting from the pipeline running across private agricultural land, Ms Congdon said she was also concerned about the potential health impacts associated with the project.
"It doesn't take a whole lot of research to learn about the problems that the gas industry has caused in Queensland and the US," she said.
"Gas is a melanoma, it doesn't look like much on the surface, but it does most of its damage under the surface. There are already a huge number of people around this area with respiratory illness. It's tragic."
Santos and the Hunter Gas Pipeline did not respond to questions about the latest interactions with landowners.
It has previously said that it would seek to work with landholders to obtain access and compensation agreements before it applied for a pipeline licence.
The Hunter Gas Landholder Rights Alliance has 106 members.
President Anne McGowan said landowners had the legal right to deny access to the properties.
"I had someone contact me yesterday who said they had just received a letter from Santos. They wanted to know if anything had changed [regarding access]. I said no, nothing has changed. You have the right to say no," she said.
"We think that Santos are sending these letters out so they can say to the department that they have been in discussions with the landowners when they haven't.
"We have advised that they complain to the department and their local MPs."
Hunter Gas Pipeline community drop-in sessions will be held at:
Hexham: Monday, May 29 - Hexham Bowling Club, 290 Old Maitland Road, Hexham - 2pm-6pm
Tocal Tuesday, May 30 - Tocal College, 815 Tocal Road, Paterson - 8am-12pm
Singleton Tuesday, May 30 - Club Singleton, 50 Pitt Street, Singleton - 2pm-6pm
Aberdeen Wednesday, May 31 - Aberdeen Bowling Club, Jefferson Park, New England Highway - 8am-12pm
Murrurundi Wednesday, May 31 - Murrurundi Bowling Club, 131 Mayne Street - 2pm-6pm
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