The enormous shit-storm that Nationals Party member Peter Graham ignited after signing his property over to gas mining in Bentley near Lismore continues to escalate.
Just two days after the meeting, NSW mining minister Anthony Roberts has shut down the Metgasco operation, saying the industry had not consulted effectively with local residents. Read the full story here.
Almost all of Mr Graham’s 40 immediate neighbours stormed out in disgust from a meeting with government departments on Tuesday (May 13) after they tried to convince the landowners that gas mining was safe.
It appeared the bureaucrats, who represented the Office of Coal Seam Gas (CSG) and NSW Land and Water, were unable to provide satisfactory answers by the residents. In fact, the residents appeared better informed and educated than the government reps themselves.
Held at the Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre, the invitation-only event was promoted as a workshop for concerned residents, focussing on ‘providing a better understanding around groundwater and well-integrity issues, fracture stimulation, and will provide an overview of existing benchmark northern rivers catchment water data.’
And the invitation said that without any media attention, it will ‘help ensure that local landholders and local members of the Casino community have a chance to hear information about the proposed Rosella E01 (PEL16) gas well at Bentley’.
It is unclear however why a media presence would hinder a ‘chance to hear information’.
Talked to rather than listened to
The meeting began with NSW Land and Water commissioner, Jock Laurie, describing his job as, ‘going to rural areas, listening to their concerns and taking them back to the government’.
But the audience soon became angered as it became clear that they were going to be talked at, rather than listened to. Mutters of ‘We know that already’ soon turned to direct questioning of the presenters, who seemed unprepared for the farmers’ high level of education.
The cracks began to appear after Rachel Connell, director of the Office of CSG, admitted of approving Metgasco’s Bentley operation as ‘conventional gas exploration’, despite its own assessment that it was a tight sands project that carried greater environmental risks.
‘We are not responsible for how the company chooses to promote itself,’ she said. And temperatures rose further when she was grilled as to why her office continued to approve Metgasco operations despite the company having been responsible for well blow-outs and contaminated-water spills. ‘We acknowledge that’s an issue,’ she replied.
The red rag to the bull, however, was Ms Connell’s assurance that while limited consultation was required for exploration, Metgasco would be required to conduct full consultation prior to obtaining approval for extraction. Vocal responses from the audience followed: ‘You’ve approved this company to spend millions of dollars to look for gas … and now you’re telling us you might not let them get it.’
‘Who’s the regulator here. Are you the regulator?’ asked Keerrong cattle farmer Joshua Wellman.
As the meeting boiled over, Green Mountain premium beef producer David Scarrabelotti, stood up to say it was now time for the government to listen to the community.
A group statement declared, ‘We have done the research, we know the facts, we have seen Metgasco in action and we are resolute … we declare our absolute determination to stop them.’
Twenty minutes into the workshop it was all over, and only a few residents stayed on to rake over the ashes with the shaken delegation.
‘We insist that this clear message from our community is taken, by you, back to your minister and the premier of NSW,’ concluded the letters handed to Mr Laurie.
Later landholder Charles Wilkinson told Gasfield Free Northern Rivers of the meeting, ‘We don’t need to listen to any more of their propaganda. We are all clear in our understanding of the risks and threats associated with industrialisation of our area and are a very well informed community, familiar with the plethora of evidence documenting the risks and failures of the gas industry. Yet once again, the government has failed to recognise and address community concerns and call for a stop to gas exploration in the northern rivers.’
The landholders also requested that their message be relayed to Sydney and to ensure that copies were being sent to the premier, the police minister, the minister for resources and energy and the minister for transport.
Who is Jock Laurie?
NSW Land and Water commissioner Jock Laurie has also shown political ambitions; www.abc.net.au last year reported that he stood down as National Farmers’ Federation president – and then lost – as the Nationals candidate for the NSW state seat of the Northern Tablelands.
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