Lock the Gate activists got a seat at the (round) table along with miners, MPs and government officials at yesterday’s CSG stakeholders’ meeting in Canberra, called by federal resources minister Ian Macfarlane.
But the meeting is unlikely to affect the outcome of the battle against coal seam gas in the northern rivers, with the minister’s own spokesperson telling Echonetdaily, ‘this was not a meeting to make decisions about projects. Those decisions are for the state government. The meeting was just a chance to express views.’
And that sentiment was clearly reflected by Lock the Gate’s weary delegate, Ian Gaillard, as he spoke to Echonetdaily by phone in a taxi on the way to the airport afterwards.
‘Governments of both persuasions intend to push ahead with further unconventional gas mining and exploration,’ he said. ‘It will remain to be seen how far they get.’
In a published after the meeting statement Mr McFarlane said, ‘While there are various views, the majority opinion expressed at this meeting was that the CSG industry should operate within the framework set out by the NSW government including the buffer zone, while also meeting any conditions set out by the NSW chief scientist and where farmers agree to have CSG on their land.’
NSW chief scientist and engineer Mary O’Kane delivered her initial report into CSG in July, outlining some minimum requirements, including introducing a rigorous soil and groundwater testing regime and the establishment of a one-stop data bank for test results.
Her full report is not due until next year and the government has largely been silent about the recommendations so far.
But Mr Gaillard said, ’minister Macfarlane continues to put his hope in the science, and it is to be remembered that science is evidentially based, so the story now is not necessarily the story when these miners have gone. I expressed my concern that the politicians and the miners will not be around if anything does go wrong in the future and ultimately will not be held responsible for their decisions.’
Mr Gaillard described the atmosphere at the meeting as ‘prickly’, with CSG miner Metgasco unyielding in its determination to mine in the northern rivers.
‘I feel [the minister] listened but Metgasco and other gas companies have already had meetings with him and I feel the agenda is already set. But he said he was willing to listen.’
He said Metgasco indicated, ‘the only good gas is around Casino, Casino airport and Dobies Bight but that doesn’t mean they won’t keep exploring in other areas, particularly in the Clarence Valley’.
‘At times there was a lot of passion expressed and there were some wild things thrown around but at least everyone got a chance to have their say.
‘I said we would continue to oppose CSG. And I told them the reason so many people in the northern rivers are opposing it is because we want to be sure the cumulative impacts of unconventional gas don’t affect our grandchildren or great grandchildren. I said it is a grab for gas and suggested Metgasco formulate an exit strategy.’
Echonetdaily has yet to receive a full list of attendees but at first glance it does not appear that they were evenly divided between supporters and objectors to CSG.
State Nationals MPs Thomas George and Chris Gulaptis were on the list, as were Stuart George and Peter Henderson from Metgasco, a representative of ERM (a major Metgasco shareholder), the head of Geoscience Australia (a body that advises minisers), Richmond Valley Council GM John Walker, the head of Richmond Valley Water Users Group, NORCO chair Greg McNamara, Leigh Sherman (a dairy farmer from Goolmangar) and a Bentley landholder Peter Graham. Also attending were Tourism operator and Marine Biologist Wendy Craig Duncan and Ian Gaillard.