Memorials planned for anti-CSG farmer

ORIGIN Energy's annual general meeting tomorrow will the location of a vigil for George Bender, the Chinchilla cotton farmer who killed himself last week after a protracted battle to protect his farm from drilling by Australia Pacific LNG and pollution blamed on Linc Energy's UCG pilot.
Memorials planned for anti-CSG farmer Memorials planned for anti-CSG farmer Memorials planned for anti-CSG farmer Memorials planned for anti-CSG farmer Memorials planned for anti-CSG farmer

Haydn Black

Reporter

Vigils will also be held to commemorate his legacy on Thursday evening outside the Queensland premier's office in Brisbane, and outside Origin offices in Melbourne and Adelaide.

His family has released a statement saying the fifth generation farmer had a commitment to "clean and green" produce and long term sustainable agriculture, which led him to examine the claims of CSG companies when they arrived in the district 10 years ago.

"George questioned the environmental claims of this industry and the right of CSG companies to impose on the lives and activities of the landholders in the Chinchilla and Hopeland areas," the family said in a statement.

"He refused to enter into compensation agreements with these companies, notwithstanding enormous pressure to do so. He advised others against the same, but unfortunately witnessed the impacts on the environment and lives of a number of his neighbours as fraccing commenced, wells were constructed, pipelines and other infrastructure were built."

Bender stood up to the big gas companies - BG Group, Arrow Energy, Origin, ConocoPhillips, Shell and Sinopec - arguing they are only interested in getting the gas, with little care about the lives of the farmers on whose land they would trample to access it.

"George stood for, quite simply, the right for a farmer to say ‘no'" to large companies who claim the legal right to extract CSG, the family said.

Bender was concerned that the short-term benefits of CSG wells would lead to the long term destruction to the land and water resources "that are of much greater long term value than the profits dispensed to a few shareholders, or the votes courted by a few politicians".

The family said Bender's unrelenting crusade resulted in a "litany of letters that were left unanswered and telephone calls not returned reflects the political inaction and unwillingness to look at the impacts of this industry by all except the likes of (independent) Glenn Lazarus and (Green) Larrisa Waters".

"The impact of CSG on neighbouring properties had caused his bores to run dry and bubble with noxious methane, something that was not caused by anything other than the mining activities in the area," the family said.

It said Bender had run up against well financed campaigns from Origin, which threatened to take him to court, and Linc, which threatened to commence legal action for damages for injurious falsehood.

Linc is now being sued for causing serious environmental harm to a 300sq.km area, including Bender's farm.

"Much has already been said about George Bender in the media since George took his own life last week," the family said.

"A local gasfields commissioner has sought to link George's death to the issue of mental health and depression in rural areas. Whilst George's family recognise that this is an important issue that must continue to be raised and addressed, and something that touches many in the farming community, it must be emphatically stated that George did not suffer from depression or mental health issues.

"These issues, although important in their own right, cannot be allowed to detract from the real concern in this case, which is the effect of the CSG industry on the lives of farmers and the environment."

While farming is stressful, the "additional and unrelenting burden that having to deal with the CSG industry has on the lives of those families affected" needs to be understood.

The family said he had faced a constant source of worry from the encroachment of CSG companies on his land, daily, for a decade.

Bender, born in 1914, was one of five generations of Benders who have farmed prime agricultural land in the Chinchilla district since 1907.

He leaves behind his wife, Pam, four sons and a daughter.

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