KINGSTON farmers Bruce and Debbie Nulty will go head to head with the government if it means they can sleep easy at night.
The Nultys and agricultural advocate Anne Daw have for the past few weeks been chasing answers about a drill hole on their property north of Kingston.
A mining exploration company discovered lignite in the Tertiary Dilwyn Formation in the Lower SE around three decades ago and sunk a huge number of drill holes, with approximately 10 per cent of them for coring lignite.
The hole on the Nultys' property is becoming a concern to them and they want to see it capped off and the hole rehabilitated.
"The well in question was not authorised by a farmer, was not to be used for stock water or any other agricultural use by the farmer or land owner," said Mrs Nulty.
Recently, an inspection of the drill hole was authorised by a government department, which identified it as a hydro geological observation/investigation well.
That left the Nultys concerned about the risk of the casing being broken, land movement, leakage and other environmental and safety issues.
No relevant equipment was brought down to measure hydrocarbon or methane levels or test for contamination or flow of the aquifers.
A camera and probe was requested and the Nultys understand that the logging truck which contains appropriate equipment was out on another job.
The Nultys received a response from the government department stating that the occupier of the land where the well is situated would have to take responsibility for the maintenance of the hole, meaning the Nultys would have to pay for it themselves.
"We were advised by the government department that the work to be carried out on this well would need to be by an appropriately licensed driller and funded by the current farmer/landowner (as seen in section 144 Natural Resource management Act 2004)," said Mrs Nulty.
"A permit would be required by the farmer or landowner as well."
The Natural Resources Management Act 2004 states provisions relating to wells Section 144 - Obligation to maintain well (1) Subject to subsection (2), the occupier of land on which a well is situated must ensure that the well (including the casing, lining, and screen of the well and the mechanism (if any) used to cap the well) are properly maintained.
The NRM Act also states a person who fails to comply is guilty of an offence, with a maximum penalty of $30,000 for a body corporate and $15,000 for a natural person.
"It was also noted that if a person fails to comply, the chief officer may enter the land on which the well is situated and carry out any work required or take action as seen fit and the debt will be due by the person concerned occupying the land," said Mrs Nulty.
However the Mining Act 1971 section 61 states (2) In determining the compensation payable under this section, the following matters shall be considered: (a) any damage caused to the land by the person carrying out the mining operations.
Also Section 71 from the Mining Act 1971 Section 70A (c) states "ensure that land adversely affected by mining operations is properly rehabilitated".
It is Mrs Daw's understanding that these laws were existing at the time of relinquishment of the licence.
The matter has been raised in the SA Parliament and some of the questions are currently awaiting a response.
"This situation where onerous obligations and financial burdens are imposed on unsuspecting land owners and uninformed buyers of the land, having the responsibility of maintaining this well mentioned or any of these wells that remain, from three decades ago is unfair and highly unsatisfactory," Mrs Nulty said.
"All drill holes in SA should be inspected regularly by the DMITRE.
"These circumstances do not establish good relationships between land owners, government departments and mining companies."
The Nultys say it is believed that the highest level of surveillance, compliance, responsibility and regulatory scrutiny with ongoing liabilities for rehabilitation costs must be the responsibility of those who initiated the drilling of these wells for their own gain. That would be the mining companies and the government departments who issued their licenses to perform the work in the first instance.
Legislation which is "clear and fair" is what the Nultys and Mrs Daw are asking for.
"Recognising that mining operators are responsible and liable for the cost of maintaining, decommissioning these wells with the recognition of the potential value of our natural resources for our own survival, being agricultural land, clean air and water is of national importance and in my opinion should be adhered to," Mrs Nulty said.
"Recently Anne gave an excellent, informative and well researched presentation to farmers and other members of the Kingston community on mining versus agriculture on the 4.6 per cent prime agricultural and cropping land in SA and spoke on some of the issues affecting agricultural production."