THE chairman of Eastern Star Gas and a former Nationals party leader, John Anderson, has rejected claims he is betraying farmers in northern NSW by heading a company that proposes to run a gas pipeline through their land.
The company is planning to extract coal-seam gas from below the artesian basin near Narrabri, and pipe it to a proposed power station at Wellington.
Mr Anderson said that ''far from seeing it as a betrayal of farmers' interests, I see it as … being in their interests''.
''Australia is running out of oil. I do not see any other option than gas as an energy source for things like farming as an interim step.''
But he acknowledged concerns about the way farmers may have been treated by project managers engaged to study the feasibility of the pipeline. He told yesterday's annual general meeting the company would investigate and take action against any inappropriate behaviour.
The Sydney meeting was overshadowed by a rally outside of farmers who oppose the proposed pipeline route because they say it could cause erosion of a fragile floodplain. They want the pipe to run along travelling stock routes instead.
The group, the Mullaley Gas Pipeline Accord, accuse Eastern Star's consultants, CNC Project Management, of using unethical tactics to gain agreement from individual landholders for easements over their lands.
An accord spokesman, James Bishop, said CNC had harassed farmers with late-night phone calls and lied about talks with other farmers. ''Farmers say they are being threatened and told that their neighbours are co-operating when they are not,'' he said.
CNC referred questions to an Eastern Star spokesman, who said: ''We urge anyone with specific details to contact us immediately and we will pursue it with our contractors.''