Three far north coast councils are set to reaffirm their opposition to coal-seam gas (CSG) exploration and mining tomorrow in the wake of the recent mass rally in Murwillumbah in which over 4,000 people marched in protest, and new policies announced for the industry.
Councillors from Ballina, Byron and Tweed will vote on separate notices of motions at their meetings on Thursday to drive home the message to the state government that communities across the northern rivers don’t want CSG because of the unacceptable risk to agricultural land and local water aquifers.
Most of the land in the three shires is covered by a petroleum exploration licence held by a giant multinational joint venture.
The council moves coincide with the recent release of the state government’s regional strategic land use policy, which opponents say fails to rule out CSG development on agricultural land and in sensitive environmental areas and only facilitates the growth of the controversial industry in NSW.
Lismore City Council is also opposed to CSG development and a referendum during the recent council election saw a whopping 87 per cent of residents vote to ban the industry from the area.
All four councils in the past have voted to impose moratoriums on CSG.
But their stand has fallen on deaf ears, despite appeals and protests to Don Page, Thomas George and Geoff Provest, the three National Party MPs who represent the council areas but backed the government in opening the gate to the new boom industry.
In their declarations, expected to be approved tomorrow, the three councils maintain their opposition to CSG but some go further.
Ballina Greens Cr Jeff Johnson has moved for his council to prohibit the use of any roads or access to land under its control to CSG-related vehicles and activity and to call on the government to revoke all CSG licences in the region.
Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson also wants his shire to ban the use of roads under its control by CSG-related vehicles.
All three councils want planning powers over development applications for mining or gas extraction delegated to local government, and seek a review of the controversial land-use policy.
The councils also want local state and federal MPs to back their stand.
Cr Richardson wants to call for a new planning system giving councils power to veto mining and CSG development by creating mining ‘no-go zones’ in local environment plans (LEPs).
Cr Richardson said the new polices on CSG ‘fail categorically in their stated aim of providing a balance between mining and gas extraction and other land uses, and the protection of farmland and water resources’.
‘The government has also offered renewals on three exploration licences in the northern rivers, two held by Metgasco and one by Clarence Moreton Resources, and approved the petroleum production lease, which allows Metgasco to proceed with their gasfield development near Casino,’ Cr Richardson said.
‘This action came just days after the Lismore community voted overwhelmingly in opposition to this industry.’
Cr Richardson said more than 30 councils have passed motions either against CSG development or calling for a five-year moratorium.
‘Local councils have more power than many people think to stop CSG development. Many councils have blocked CSG exploration activities on council-owned land and roads using the Lock the Gate approach, which forces a CSG company to take council to court to gain access,’ he said.
Cr Johnson said the government’s ban on the contentious hydraulic fracturing (fracking) used in CSG exploration and mining had been lifted ‘but none of the science relied on to justify this change in policy has been made public’.
He said 22 exploration licences had since been offered for renewal with no consultation with local councils and ‘all biodiversity land mapping had been removed from the plans, signalling sensitive environmental areas’.
Tweed mayor Barry Longland, who addressed the recent Murwillumbah anti-CSG rally, said his council and community had already expressed its opposition through many Lock the Gate events and local CSG-free declarations ‘which now cover most of the land mass in Tweed shire’.
The national Lock the Gate alliance has called for a royal commission into the industry and ramped up its protest with a peaceful disobedience campaign involving blockades soon set to dog the industry.