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Byron Shire
January 18, 2022

Call for Royal Commission into CSG licences

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The banner at the Bentley gas well site attached to four bollards made from railway sleepers cemented into the ground. Photo Marie Cameron
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Chris Dobney

Farmers and local anti-gas groups have welcomed moves by the state government to place a moratorium on CSG exploration licences and raise the cost of the licences to $50,000. But many say it does not go far enough.

Lock the Gate spokesperson Ian Gaillard has called for a Royal Commission into the granting of licences and the cumulative impact of onshore gas exploration and exploitation.

The government said yesterday it would not release any new licences for six months and would audit all existing licences.

New energy minister Anthony Roberts said the NSW government would freeze processing new PELAs until September 26 as it puts in place a more comprehensive application process.

‘Speculators or cowboys need not apply,’ he added

The move follows the refusal of an exploration licence to two-dollar company Grainger Energy in the Riverina earlier this week.

Mr Roberts wasted no time in dressing down Grainer Energy and its owner/manager Vaughan Cullen.

‘Grainger Energy has one owner/director, was formed just six days prior to lodging its application, has no history of conducting petroleum exploration activities and has submitted a manifestly deficient application.

Royal Commission

The move prompted Lock the Gate’s Ian Gaillard to call for a Royal Commission into ‘all aspects of the granting of licences for unconventional gas’.

‘Some of the things that a Royal Commission should examine are all drilling records and incidences of environmental damage, and a far-reaching examination of cumulative impacts by scientists appointed by the community in affected areas,’ he told Echonetdaily.

‘The lottery of election fever needs to be tempered with a truly long-term view of cumulative impact of gasfields in inappropriate areas.

‘Any political party seeking election needs to consider that this is a broad social movement and be put on notice that remedies to get them elected on these issues will not wash with the broader community.’

Put industry on hold

Lock the Gate’s Boudicca Cerese was more conciliatory, welcoming the review of but saying it was not clear what the scope of it would be.

She said this morning the decision was ‘an acknowledgment from government that the current system of licences is failing and needs to be overhauled, which is what the community has been saying all along – that many of these licences should just never have been granted’.

‘The government media release seemed to suggest it would be just looking at the operators – the applicants for the licences,’ Ms Cerese said.

She added that it was imperative that the government place a moratorium on exploratory drilling by existing licence-holders during the investigation.

‘You need to put the whole industry on hold and do a full inquiry into the impact and decide once and for all whether the industry should go ahead at all, and in what areas,’ she told Echonetdaily this morning.

‘Operations in Pilliga, Gloucester and the northern rivers should all be put on hold,’ Ms Cerese said.

‘Any system has to include areas that are no-go zones, such as important food-growing areas, water-supply areas and high-conservation-value land,’ she told Echonetdaily.

She added that ‘any changes to the Petroleum (Onshore) Act need to ensure the right of the landholder to say no to access to their land for gas operations’.

She also called for tougher regulatory frameworks, citing a series of breaches by Metgasco including failing linings on wastewater ponds, the unlicensed dumping of wastewater into the Casino sewerage system and the accident during the decommissioning of its Kingfisher well.

NSW Farmers Association president Fiona Simpson welcomed the move and said it had only taken place because of a change of minister after former energy minister, Chris Hartcher, was referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

‘The new minister’s coming into the position with a fresh pair of eyes has enabled him to meet with the stakeholders and to understand the positions that we hold,’ she told ABC radio this morning.

‘Certainly we have very much appreciated being able to talk to the minister about many of our concerns.’

Shonky operators

The government has also issued a ‘show cause’ notice to Leichhardt Resources as to why its three PELs near Moree, across Nowra and between Bylong and Denham, should not be cancelled.

Premier Barry O’Farrell said the former Labor government granted 39 exploration licences while his government had yet to grant a single one.

He pointed out that three-quarters of the licences granted under Labor were issued by former ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald, who were later found by the Independent Commission Against Corruption to have acted corruptly.

He accused the former Labor government of granting licences ‘like confetti’ and allowing exploration ‘from Palm Beach to Cronulla and from Bondi Junction to St Marys’.

‘We’re taking decisive action to ensure the state’s resources are developed for the people of NSW and not for the benefit of Labor MPs, their cronies and their union mates,’ he told Parliament.

Mr Roberts said under the Petroleum (Onshore) Act (1991), a petroleum title may be cancelled on a number of grounds, including contravention of conditions and failure to use the title area in good faith for the purpose for which the title was granted and for contraventions of the Act.

‘The NSW government will not rule out rejecting further PELAs or cancelling PELs,’ he said.

‘It is clear that the PEL application process under the former Labor government was not up to scratch.

‘In 2002 NSW Labor introduced a PEL application fee of just $1,000.

‘The proponent could then hold a PEL across a large area of land, which placed unnecessary and understandable stress across communities.

‘In fact, the former Labor government granted a PEL that blankets Sydney from near Wollongong to the central coast for an application fee of just $1,000.

– with AAP


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4 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with what MP Scott Macdonald has said in today’s Tele.
    “Scaremongering is weapon of choice to promote division”
    Scott said,
    “SOMETIMES the contempt the NSW Greens have for regional Australia and those who live and work there shows its ugly side.

    Max Phillips, a Marrickville Greens councillor and media spokesman for Greens upper house MP Jeremy Buckingham, is a serial offender. He tweets about miners as if their occupation is inferior and should be phased out. Apparently development and progress and prosperity are only for inner city Sydney.

    We’re used to patronising, out of touch behaviour from NSW Greens. It is no more meaningful than a bunch of noisy galahs.

    But now the Greens are using mining and gas development to wedge communities. No lie is too outrageous. No exaggeration too fanciful. Personal denigration is just another tool. Scaremongering is their weapon of choice. Mr Buckingham preys on the genuine concerns and desire for information to polarise communities.

    Over 35 years working and living in regional NSW, I have seen what looked like insurmountable threats confronted and dealt with rationally. In the 1980s, cotton farmers’ water and chemical practices had serious environmental impacts, but with goodwill and communication they now have world’s best practice natural resource credentials.

    The Murray Darling Basin reforms caused enormous tensions, but have largely been resolved with effective dialogue among stakeholders, even as farmers lost 2750 gigalitres from productive agriculture.

    Every time these sorts of issues have cropped up, the Greens fly in, put out a media release, do a few interviews and stir up the community. Their sum contribution has usually been to delay adjustment and put communities under greater strain.

    There are about 23,000 men and women employed in mining and 330 in gas in NSW. Most of these jobs are in the country. Mining occupies less than 1 per cent of the landscape and that has barely changed in decades.

    Even at its peak, gas mining will cover just 0.00003 per cent of the state. The NSW Liberals and Nationals government is committed to an independent, transparent process for assessing all resource development.

    Frankly, I don’t care about the Marrickville Greens’ or Mr Buckingham’s contempt for country Australians. What I do care about is their legacy. The challenges of mining and gas will be worked through, but none of us should tolerate the divisive tactics of the Greens. They will vanish when the political opportunity is exhausted.

    They won’t be members of the local Rotary Club. You won’t see them training a junior footy or netball team. You won’t see them when the next bushfire or flood occurs.

    The townspeople and farmers I know want a balanced, fair, safe outcome from resource development. That balance has been achieved many times before. We understand the regions can benefit from mining jobs when jobs are hard to find.

    It can mean young people have the opportunity to have a career and raise a family close to home. It can mean the difference between our hospitals and schools staying open or closing if the town is shrinking.”

    Scot MacDonald is a Liberal Party member of the NSW Legislative Council. He served on the Upper House Inquiry into Coal Seam Gas. He is based in Guyra on the Northern Tablelands.

  2. This disaster needs to investigated! It’s about our future (&present) water supply not just for people but for all living beings incl. fauna. There is so much at risk here that it is scary how little our representatives in politics want to look at the issue, rather giving away rights for mining for a lesser cost in application fees than for an approval of a building development! I have grand children and I don’t want to imagine a future where the only water they consume safely might be owned by CocaCola.

  3. Well lets hope that there is a Royal commission and they delve into all aspects of what is worrying the community drinking water and land and any other problem that could arise from the drilling but when it is all boiled down l hope it never happens.

  4. In response to an earlier comment, I am not a member of the Greens nor, unlike yourself, a member of any political party. I am a member of the community. My right to object to mining development would seem at least as valid as your right to name calling. Grow Up.

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