Despite community jubilation over the current win against CSG mining in the northern rivers, Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson told a media conference yesterday that the coal seam gas company will return to the area once the regulatory landscape settles down.
The state government is allowing the company to keep its exploration licences for an indefinite period of time even if it does not undertake further exploration, despite it a being a term of all licence agreements that ongoing exploration is undertaken.
The company is blaming the state government for changing the rules, which would now prevent it from conducting CSG testing or mining within two kilometres of a residential area, although the definition of a residential area has yet to be clearly outlined.
Mr Henderson studiously avoided mentioning protest action as a reason for the company’s withdrawal; however, it is clear that without such action the changes to state government policy would not have come into being.
He added the previous 18 month moratorium and ‘delays in approvals’ had contributed to the company’s woes.
Mr Henderson also failed to mention the federal government’s new water regulations, which are set to pass the House of Representatives this week.
The company is set to shed 21 jobs including 15 of its 17 Casino based workers. It will also lose most of its Sydney staff, leaving it with just six employees.
Metgasco’s share price fell 21 per cent yesterday to close at 7.3 cents a share after diving to as low as 6.9 cents soon after the announcement.
But Mr Henderson was upbeat about the company’s future prospects, although it does not hold any significant assets outside the Clarence-Moreton basin and has effectively been mothballed.
‘We believe over the next two or three years there will be gas shortages in the eastern coast of Australia which will inevitably result in much higher gas prices,’ APN Media reported him as saying.
‘As soon as we have a stable and secure regulatory environment we will start our operations again.
‘The gas is still in the ground and over time its value will increase.’
He also told ABC radio this morning, ‘We’re very confident we have a safe and sound industry and we need to get out and communicate that better. We need to do that away from the noise that is created by federal elections and we’ll be working hard at it. So you can expect us back here in the not too distant future.
There has been no comment from state government or any of the local National Party state MPs on the announcement.
ALP federal MP for Page Janelle Saffin described it as ‘a great result for people power; for all the farmers, the knitting nannas, the activists and local residents young and old from across the community who gave a clear message that they didn’t want anything that threatened our water, our land and our way of life.’
Greens mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham told ABC radio this morning ‘it’s a fantastic result but it wasn’t easy. We’ve seen people put their bodies on the line the blocades. It’s been a heroic effort.’
Ms Saffin said she felt sorry for the people who are set to lose their jobs ‘and I hope the company looks after them’.
But she added, ‘having CSG in our area would have killed off a whole lot of other industries and jobs and we could not have that either.
Ms Saffin also warned that the struggle was not over. She said governments had some work to do to properly regulate the mining industry and CSG in particular.
‘There are other companies with CSG plans for our area and we still need the state government to declare an exclusion zone for the northern rivers.
‘That will give certainty to the community that it won’t have coal seam gas mining and will fully protect our water, our farmland, and our agriculture, our environment, our tourism.
‘I also think there needs to be a whole new regulatory framework around mining.
‘It’s clear that the advent of CSG to the northern rivers has highlighted how outdated the regulatory framework around mining is.’