Federated Farmers has been informed of an oil and gas company that sent representatives onto a North Island farm to request that landowners sign access agreements for exploratory drilling purposes.

This happened during the Christmas/New Year break, when lawyers' offices were shut, making it impossible for farmers to get proper legal advice at the time.

This begs the question - what are the access rights of mineral companies on farmland and what should you do when approached? Federated Farmers is currently drawing up fact sheets to supply members with more detailed information around this subject. But in the meantime, here is some basic advice.

Anyone wanting to undertake exploratory mineral activities should first have a permit from the Government. This entitles them to prospect in a given area.

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Under section 49(3) of the Crown Minerals Act, the permit holder is then required to have the written consent of the landowner and occupier(s) to enter the property before they undertake any exploratory activity.

If a company representative comes to you with paperwork to sign, it could be for permission to undertake so-called 'minimum impact activity', or for more intensive exploration work. It may be difficult to determine the proposed scale of work at first glance.

Under the Crown Minerals Act, 'minimum impact activity' includes a variety of aerial and land surveying methods, taking small samples by hand or using low-impact machinery, and associated activities. It does not include the use of explosives, any more than minimal damage to vegetation or having more people on site than 'reasonably necessary'.

You may however be asked to allow more extensive activities. The important thing is to know what you're signing. The worst-case scenario would be signing something that you later find allows for larger-scale work that you were expecting, with associated disruption to farm activities, noise etc.

The key message is, do not sign anything unless your lawyer has had a chance to look it over. If you feel under pressure, simply ask them to come back at a more convenient time. And then get your lawyer on the phone.

You can also get free legal advice from the Federated Farmers hotline by phoning 0800 FARMING.