DRILLING has started on the former property of one of NSW's most vehement opponents of coal seam gas wells.
AGL Energy bought former Macquarie Bank chairman David Clarke's beloved Pooles Rock Vineyard in the Hunter Valley six months after he died of cancer in April 2011, the Daily Telegraph reports.
The company has started drilling water bores, which will govern how it extracts coal seam gas from under the property at Broke and, by drilling horizontally, from under neighbouring properties.
Anti-CSG campaigner Graeme Gibson, from the Hunter Valley Protection Alliance, fears AGL will use the controversial fracking method - where a combination of water, sand and chemicals is forced at high pressure down and across a coal seam, fracturing the seam and creating fissures which release the gas for extraction. Fracking has been linked to the poisoning of ground water and damaging of aquifers.
An AGL Energy spokeswoman yesterday would not rule out using fracking in the Hunter Valley. AGL has a petroleum exploration licence that covers most of the valley.
"The purpose of drilling the water bores into the upper fresh water aquifers is to enable them to measure whether or not the levels drop when they start fracking," Mr Gibson said yesterday.
"We were promised by (Premier) Barry O'Farrell, (Planning Minister) Brad Hazzard, (Resources Minister) Chris Hartcher and George Souris prior to the last election that there would be no CSG mining in the vineyard area.
"It appears they were just lies to gain election. David feared what mining might do to the vineyards and that it would destroy Hunter Valley tourism."
The Daily Telegraph understands any wine produced at Mr Clarke's former vineyard can no longer be described as coming from Pooles Rock Vineyard because another company now owns the name and does not want its wines associated with AGL and CSG drilling.
An alliance of winemakers - including Brian McGuigan, Max Drayton and Jay Tulloch - earlier this year presented a white paper to the state government urging the creation of an exclusion zone to keep coal seam gas activity away from the winemaking region.
Bruce Tyrrell from the famed winemaking family wrote: "We've been here before. During the 1980s the mining industry looked into opening up the upper Hunter using the promise of 'co-existence'. The upper Hunter has been lost to wine and tourism."
Read more at the Daily Telegraph.