NOT BACKING DOWN: Farmers forming the blockade, which has been operating since Monday. – Picture by Gloucester AdvocateA ‘‘RELUCTANT’’ AGL has stopped planned exploration drilling south of Gloucester and says it will subject the approved first stage of its big gas production project to a fresh assessment.
Nanjing Night Net

The move came late yesterday and followed a Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud Preservation Alliance blockade of the road to the exploration site.

Gas company AGL had planned to drill six exploration wells on land owned by coal company Gloucester Resources until the blockade halted operations.

The first stage of AGL’s Gloucester Gas Project, made up of 110 production wells, has been approved but is the subject of a legal challenge by the alliance.

About 40 farmers have been blockading the farm at Gloucester since Monday, when AGL began bringing equipment in to start exploration at the property.

AGL issued a statement yesterday deferring the exploration drilling until an ‘‘independently, peer-reviewed’’ hydrogeological study of stage one of the production project was completed and the results made public.

‘‘While AGL acknowledges the alliance wants a new groundwater study initiated and completed without any involvement from AGL, the reality is that extensive groundwater monitoring has already taken place,’’ the company said.

‘‘This work will be independently peer reviewed by an expert appointed by the Gloucester community consultative committee.

‘‘AGL makes the decision to defer the drilling program with some reluctance in the knowledge of the impact it will have on our local business suppliers and partners and their employees so close to Christmas.’’

The company will also wait until the legal challenge is resolved before resuming drilling.

Alliance chairman Graeme Healy said AGL’s move was a ‘‘significant victory’’.

But there would be further negotiations with the company about the group’s demands, he added.

The blockade will continue but the protest will be scaled down, Mr Healy said.

AGL group general manager upstream gas Mike Moraza said other work on the Gloucester gas project, including seismic surveying, ground water monitoring and irrigation trials, would continue.