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.