The state government is planning to extend the amount of time coal seam gas miners have to ‘prove’ the gas reserves in their licence areas, in contravention of its own regulations, according to secret documents obtained by the Lock the Gate Alliance (LTG).
And, ironically, it is using community opposition to CSG as justification for its largesse.
The documents, obtained under freedom of information laws, reveal that the intense community opposition to coal seam gas mining is impeding the industry and slowing down the process of testing.
A spokesperson for LTG said it should ‘send a warning signal to investors everywhere’.
One of the companies involved, Metgasco, has seen its share price slump in recent weeks and is to be removed from the ASX’s All Ordinaries Index this week.
This latest show of support by the government to the CSG industry follows the police minister’s steadfast refusal to inform the media of the cost of its assistance to companies at drill sites blockaded by local communities.
The documents obtained by LTG include draft instruments of renewal for controversial coal seam gas exploration licences, and correspondence between gas companies and governments on those renewals.
LTG and other CSG free community groups have been calling for the licences to be put on hold or even revoked when they come up for renewal.
Yet the documents show that the NSW government is not only set to renew all the licences but it is planning to overlook a mandatory requirement that licence exploration areas are reduced by 25 per cent on each renewal.
The departmental unit considering renewals, Petroleum Geoscience, is on the record in the documents admitting the impediments to the industry are substantial. For example, it states that:
PEL13 (granted to Metgasco): ‘The proposed work program for the first two years is light but in the recent past Metgasco had experienced severe delays due to opposition, blockade and access problems, which renders a bigger work program rather meaningless if they cannot fulfill them’.
PEL462 (granted to Santos): ‘Work program proposed is quite minimal and much reduced compared to previous years. However, due to protracted negotiations in landholder consent for access and very strong anti sentiments from the community the reduced exploration is understandable.’
Carmel Flint, campaign co-ordinator with Lock The Gate Alliance, said that ‘any investor looking at these documents would have to get cold feet. They show company after company stating that they are beset at every turn by community opposition and protests and it is impacting on their ability to meet their work program.
‘The documents show Santos had over 15,000 contacts with stakeholders during 2011 but only signed one access agreement. Santos should take the hint – they are clearly not wanted on the Liverpool Plains and in northwest NSW.
‘The NSW government is showing great disregard for the community by giving gas companies access to 100 per cent of their original licence areas despite the extraordinary groundswell of opposition.
‘We are calling on the NSW government to put licence renewals on hold until the chief scientist reports back from her inquiry into coal seam gas in July, and are asking for public exhibition of licence renewals,’ she said.
Lock the Tweed spokesperson Michael McNamara has endorsed the call from Lock the Gate Alliance and has called on the state government to go even further.
‘The state government should call a halt to the processing and approval of applications for any form of exploration or production licences or prospecting authorities including the application for a prospecting authority over much of the Tweed.
‘In addition to the broad community opposition revealed in the government documents obtained under freedom of information laws, the state government’s recent decision to impose a 2km exclusion zone around residential areas makes a mockery of this application.
‘Geoff Provest, as the member for Tweed, now has a perfect opportunity to stand up for the interests and views of his constituents.
‘It will be interesting to see if he maintains his silence on this important community issue.
‘Community opposition to CSG in the Tweed is very strong.’