New-style land access agreements put farmers at risk of losing out if they let an oil company on their property, a Stratford lawyer has warned.
Philip Armistead, of Thomson, O'Neil and Co, said access agreements between landowners and oil companies were increasingly weighted in favour of the companies with much of the "fairness" disappearing.
"We've got a bit complacent because they have been around for a while and there has been no major events. We have just got used to them. But there is risk involved, and, if there are problems with some of these sites, we just wonder how responsible these companies are going to be."
Mr Armistead said in the past agreements were based on a template worked out with Federated Farmers.
However, new agreements could include clauses that forced the landowner to sign resource consents for the particular activity being undertaken and any other related activity in the future.
Other clauses gave the oil company scope to claim rights over the entire piece of the landowner's property and there were attempts to significantly limit any liability if activity on the land caused the owner any loss.
"A large degree of fairness around these agreements is disappearing," he said. "I just think the message needs to go out that farmers need to be sure if they are approached by oil companies they get the right sort of advice and know what their rights are."
But Tag Oil chief operating officer Drew Cadenhead said the basic access agreement they used had not changed in the last 16 years at least.
"No changes have taken place that would serve to advantage the companies," he said.
Mr Cadenhead said all agreements required individual clauses unique to the landowner and they should always seek legal advice. Not one of the farmers who had negotiated an access agreement with the Canadian company was unhappy. "Every single one of our farmers are great guys. They like having us there and we like being there."
Rob Jager, general manager of Shell Todd Oil Services, said it owned most of the land it needed to access for natural gas production and there had been no new land access agreements in recent times.
Taranaki Federated Farmers dairy spokesman Derek Gibson said he had heard of oil companies reassuring farmers their access agreements had been approved by the organisation.
"They're not. We put out some guidelines in the late 1990s, early 2000s. What we are saying is use those guidelines as a reference and get advice from your legal team."
Under the Crown Minerals Act 1991, companies must negotiate with a landowner for access to their land and explain why they wish to do so.
If parties cannot reach an agreement after 60 days one party can request the appointment of an arbitrator.
If the parties then cannot agree on someone to arbitrate, the Government can be requested to appoint one. All costs of arbitration must be met by the company requesting access.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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