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AGL’s Hunter Valley Coal-Seam Gas Plan Sparks Protest in Sydney

AGL Energy Ltd.’s plan for a coal-bed methane project in Australia’s wine-growing and coal-mining Hunter Valley region sparked a protest outside its annual shareholders meeting in Sydney.

Dozens of protesters holding placards and chanting slogans handed flyers to shareholders arriving at the City Recital Hall for today’s meeting. Two days ago, Origin Energy Ltd. said it found traces of chemical contaminants at eight coal-seam gas exploration wells in the state of Queensland.

Among the opponents was Macquarie Group Ltd. Non-Executive Chairman David Clarke, who owns a home and winery in the Hunter Valley community of Broke. “I became increasingly concerned the more I looked into this,” he said by phone from Sydney. “Clearly there are environmental and health risks.”

The Origin and ConocoPhillips venture in Queensland, which aims to liquefy gas taken from coal seams for export, detected benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene -- known as BTEX, the Sydney-based company said Oct. 19.

AGL doesn’t use the chemicals when extracting gas from coal seams and hasn’t found any BTEX traces in its operations, Chief Executive Officer Michael Fraser said today.

The Hunter Valley Protection Alliance, a group based in Broke, attracted about 100 people to today’s protest, said John Thomson, who leads the organization.

“As we’ve seen in Queensland, there are question marks for this industry,” Thomson said. The Hunter Valley Protection Alliance is concerned there isn’t enough oversight to protect “agricultural land, the vineyards and tourism” from potential environmental harm caused by the gas exploration, he said.

Environment Minister Tony Burke is due tomorrow to decide whether to approve Queensland coal-seam gas ventures proposed by BG Group Plc and Santos Ltd.

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