The NSW government has announced it has awarded Dart Energy a six-year renewal of its Petroleum Exploration Licence (PEL) 445 , which covers a vast swathe of the state’s north coast.
In an announcement to media today, energy minister Anthony Roberts says the company has relinquished some 25 per cent of the previous exploration area, including Byron Bay, Mullumbimby, Ballina and Lennox Head, where there are no known CSG deposits.
Whenever a company renews a CSG exploration licence they are required by law to reduce the exploration area by a quarter.
He also mentioned ‘areas around Lismore’ as being excised from the renewed lease but an examination of the lease map (above) shows the town to be surrounded by the licence, as are Kyogle, Nimbin, The Channon, Coraki, and west of Woodenbong, as well as vast areas of the Richmond, Clarence and Tweed river catchments.
‘The Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) recommended the renewal of PEL 445 for six years based on the company’s financial and technical capacity, good record of environmental management and rehabilitation,’ he told the media.
The renewal has come despite a moratorium on the issuing of new CSG exploration licences and has drawn howls of protest from the Greens and local communities.
Greens, Labor opposed
Shadow north coast minister Walt Secord said the move ‘has given the green light to the expansion of CSG mining across the north coast’.
‘Instead of cancelling the entire licence outright and acting in the best interests of the north coast, the Liberals and Nationals have again put the interests of the CSG industry ahead of the community; they have given Dart another six years to explore on the North Coast,” Mr Secord said.
‘Labor will ban existing and future CSG and unconventional gas mining on the North Coast encompassing the local government areas of Ballina shire, Byron shire, Kyogle shire, Lismore city, Tweed shire, Richmond Valley and Clarence Valley.
‘Today’s renewal of PEL445 demonstrates that a vote for a Nationals candidate or MP in the March election is a vote for the expansion of harmful CSG in the northern rivers,’ Mr Secord said.
‘The National Party today declared the northern rivers a coal seam gas zone, tinkering at the edges to try to get them through the upcoming election,’ said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.
‘The Greens believe the northern rivers and NSW should be coal seam gas free and protected by the cancellation of these exploration licences cancelled. Instead the National Party has renewed the licences.
‘Premier Mike Baird has said his government ‘absolutely’ wants coal seam gas, and now they’ve renewed this licence to do just that in the northern rivers,’ he said.
Greens candidate for Lismore Adam Guise described the seat’s National Party incumbent, Thomas George, as ‘a dinosaur, pushing dinosaur policies to dig up fossil fuels all over the northern rivers. He’s yesterday’s man,’ he said.
Greens candidate for Ballina, Tamara Smith said, it was ‘shocking that the Nationals have renewed this coal seam gas exploration licence despite the clear community opposition’.
‘They have changed the boundaries of this exploration licence to try to take the electoral heat out of the issue, but voters will not be fooled. CSG licences still cover the hinterland and our river catchments,’ she said.
Partial relinquishment welcomed
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers has welcomed Dart’s surrender of twenty five per cent of PEL 445, which it says ‘covers the Ballina electorate’.
But it describes the move as, ‘only a small step in protecting our area from the practice of invasive and dangerous unconventional gas extraction’.
‘This is only a part relinquishment and a very large area of PEL445 and the rest of the Northern Rivers remains open to unconventional gas exploration and fracking,’ said Gasfield Free spokesperson Dean Draper
‘It’s crucial our region’s water supplies and our agriculture and tourism industries are protected. Our community is calling for a full cancellation of the entire PEL 445 and all of the petroleum Exploration Licenses in the northern rivers.’
‘We need to have certainty in protection, until all of the licenses are cancelled the future of our regions clean and green image remains at risk.’ he said
‘It seems this announcement by minister Roberts is motivated by the fact that the Ballina electorate is considered a vulnerable seat by the NSW government in the lead-up to the NSW election.
‘However, the impacts of invasive gasfields stretch across electorate boundaries, and our community will not rest until the entire northern rivers receives the protection it deserves.’ Mr Draper said.
Ballina CSG Free spokesperson John Heaton cautiously welcomed the announcement but also remained concerned for the rest of the region.
‘We’re happy to hear the announcement, however we would like to see the entire PEL 445 cancelled and permanent protection given,’ he said.
‘We know that Ballina is not really safe until we get legal protection as a gasfield free region, and therefore CSG will remain a major issue in the Ballina electorate in the lead-up to the election in March,’ Mr Heaton added.