The state government has upheld a suspension of Metgasco’s licence to drill for gas at Bentley, just outside Lismore.
Anti-gas campaigners and Bentley landowners, along with the Greens, Page MP Kevin Hogan and Richmond MP Justine Elliot, have all welcomed the decision.
It came amid growing pressure from northern rivers councils, all of which have requested that the region be declared gas free, except Richmond Valley Council which has announced that it wants to ban fracking.
The licence suspension came just days before more than 800 police were expected to descend on the blockade at Bentley, which at its peak was attracting thousands of ‘protectors’.
Metgasco had urged the office of coal seam gas to review the suspension, and has launched legal action in the NSW Supreme Court for a judicial review.
NSW resources minister Anthony Roberts announced this afternoon that the suspension would remain in place until the office of coal seam gas was satisfied that the company had met all of its licensing conditions.
‘As requested by Metgasco, a review of the office of coal seam gas decision to suspend operations of Metgasco under the Activity Approval has been undertaken,’ Mr Roberts said.
‘Metgasco was provided with opportunities to submit additional material to be taken into account in relation to this review.
‘Metgasco took the opportunity to submit additional material during the course of the review which has been taken into account.
‘The outcome of the review is that the decision to suspend the operations of Metgasco under the activity approval remains in place until the OCSG is satisfied that the company has met the conditions of its title and the conditions of the Activity Approval.
‘As this matter remains the subject of ongoing litigation, I will be making no further comment.’
Metgasco and the state government are due in the Supreme Court tomorrow for a hearing into the suspension.
Metgasco has said the suspension was unlawful, and that it could seek compensation.
‘The government should not allow itself to be intimidated by activists making spurious and ill-informed claims about drilling for natural gas when the state is running out of gas and regional areas are crying out for investment,’ managing director Peter Henderson said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Gasfield Free Northern Rivers and Bentley landholders commended the NSW government for its decision to uphold the suspension.
‘We thank the government for listening to the people of Bentley and the northern rivers and upholding Metgasco’s licence suspension,’ Bentley landholder Rosemary Joseph said.
‘Industrialised gas fields have no place in our valley or the region as a whole.
‘The northern rivers is known for its beautiful and productive farmland, and is a worldwide tourism destination that should be protected from invasive gasfields for perpetuity.
‘Our community is greatly relieved that will not have to face another drilling attempt from Metgasco and the huge police presence it would require anytime soon.’
‘However, while a licence is still in place we will live with the threat of the drilling hanging over us and are urging the government to take the next step and cancel Metgasco’s licence outright.’
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers spokesperson, Ian Gaillard said the northern rivers community commended the government.
‘Metgasco’s community consultation was clearly inadequate and this is a vindication of what the community has been saying for years about this industry,’ he said.
‘While we are grateful that the government has allowed this community a reprieve, people remain overwhelmingly opposed to any gasfield industrialisation of the northern rivers, and will not have certainty until Metgasco’s gas licence is cancelled.’
“We have provided substantial and damning evidence to the government evidencing Metgasco’s failed community consultation, and maintain that there are sufficient grounds for them to cancel the company’s licence.’
Greens NSW mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said Metgasco should pack up and leave the northern rivers.
‘The Greens believe that coal seam gas is unsafe, unnecessary and unwanted. The Greens support a rapid transition to clean renewable energy such as wind and solar,’ he said.
Richmond MP Justine Elliot said, the north coast was united in its opposition to coal seam gas and unconventional gas exploration. They have spoken and they were clear.
‘They do not want to see coal seam gas and unconventional gas exploration on the north coast. Labor has heard the community.’
Page MP Kevin Hogan congratulated the state government for listening to the local community.
The government should not allow itself to be intimidated by CSG companies threatening legal action rather than Mr Henderson’s comment above. When will Mr Henderson realise the activists are the people who live here, the farmers, business people families and children not wanting to live in an industrial gasland. Remember more than 85% of people in this region said no to CSG. The spurious and ill-informed claims about drilling for natural gas seem to be made by the gas companies. When have scientists been spurious and ill-informed? Effects on water air land health etc. The long term and renewable investment is in tourism and farming. Once the gas has been fracked out the community is left with the toxic residuals and landscape. The gas companies cannot and have not beyond reasonable doubt shown that it is safe. Germany has put a moratorium on gas mining for that reason.The state is not running out of gas. I understand the gas they want to produce was destined for export anyway. The one thing I cannot understand why Metgasco want to keep throwing bad money after bad. The “protectors” of our health land and water will not go away.
it is not yet time to become complacent or victorious. the govt would not lift its suspension on the eve of the court case as that would strengthen the case by metgasco for damages. fracking is not going away any time soon! governments around the world see unconventional gas and oil as the only possible way to deal with peak oil and gas and continued hunger for the growth economy. they have no heart or will to reduce consuming hydrocarbons even though it is obvious that we must. this will be a long hard and dirty fight. the approach being taken by councils in the area is a good one. it is madness to frack anywhere (in my view) ,but it is criminal stupidity to do it in populated areas and farm lands. the best we can hope for in the short term is to push it out of these areas into marginal agricultural areas with low population. this will at least minimize the damage. in time the damage that fracking is doing to water and ecosystems will become too blatant to ignore, and the realization that the world does not have the resources to sustain continued growth will set in and force change. it will happen, but changing the course of 200 years of hydrocarbon addiction will be slow and difficult.
Peter Henderson’s comment that “The government should not allow itself to be intimidated by activists making spurious and ill-informed claims about drilling for natural gas when the state is running out of gas and regional areas are crying out for investment” is ironic, given that the activists, who represent a huge cross-section of the local population acting peacefully, are extremely well-informed, and have never misrepresented the truth, unlike Metgasco’s very selective statements about its operations. Notice that he continues to perpetuate the myth that the gas industry would address an alleged shortage of gas in NSW, which it would in fact not do as long as the gas is exported and continues to drive the domestic gas price up towards parity with the export price. Effective and genuine community consultation does not mean ignoring the vast majority who have clearly indicated its opposition to the gas industry in this region, and the government is to be commended for upholding the suspension.
Rollin, Jill Garsden have said what I wanted to say. So, thank you. And as Peter Brush adds , ‘this will be a long hard and dirty fight’ while ‘fracking is not going away any time soon’ meaning we have to wake up the whole of Australia about this critical issue, it having already damaged Australia and Australians. THE POLITICAL WAS NEVER MORE PERSONAL and THE PERSONAL WAS NEVER MORE POLITICAL!
The Director decided to confirm the suspension of Metgasco’s activities because, in her opinion:
● Metgasco had not developed a community consultation plan in accordance with the Guideline. This was not to say that Metgasco was not undertaking community consultation, but there was no evidence of a plan as required by the Guideline and by condition 8 of Schedule 2 of PEL 16.
● Metgasco had not adequately identified relevant stakeholders. Metgasco’s consultation efforts had been limited to landholders within 2km of the proposed Rosella Exploration Well, the Richmond River Council, local indigenous groups, and the general community. However, the Director considered that Lismore and Kyogle Councils also had a significant interest in the activities being undertaken by Metgasco and should have been engaged as proactively as Richmond Valley Council. Further, the Director was not satisfied that Metgasco had undertaken an appropriately detailed analysis of the stakeholders given the circumstances of the case such as local environment groups, chambers of commerce or other interested community groups. Although the consultation undertaken by Metgasco was active, it was too narrow and the identification of stakeholders was inadequate. Metgasco limited its focus to an area and people that it thought it could positively influence. This was considered to be contrary to the Guideline and accordingly condition 8 of Schedule 2 of PEL 16.
● the consultation undertaken by Metgasco had not been effective. The Director considered that Metgasco could take a significantly more sophisticated approach to community engagement than it had done.
● Metgasco’s decision to defer a broader consultation program until after the Rosella Exploration Well had been drilled was not reasonable given the escalation of opposition to the activity in the Northern Rivers area from the beginning of the year.
The Director considered that Metgasco needs to develop a clear and sophisticated community consultation plan to deal with community consultation in the complex community operating environment of PEL 16.
In her reasons, the Director reiterated the offer of support which the Division of Resources and Energy, the OCSG and the Land and Water Commissioner is able to provide in this respect.