After failing to storm the Bentley blockade, mining company Metgasco is taking its fight to the bar.
The company announced yesterday that it would ask the NSW Supreme Court to set aside the suspension of its licence to drill the Rosella well at Bentley, just outside Lismore.
The company also announced that it would ask the court to rule that it had complied with its community consultation obligations, and also indicated it would explore whether it might claim compensation for the suspension.
Gasfield-Free Northern Rivers says the decision is evidence of the company’s ‘recalcitrant attitude’ towards the community.
“Instead of a mea culpa from Metgasco, we get yet more crash through tactics. Metgasco has shown consistently that it prefers the use of massive policing or lawyers at 40 paces to genuine community consultation”, said spokesperson Mr Aidan Ricketts.
“The glaring irony is that when faced with the argument that they have failed in their community consultation obligations, their response is a combative one. It is a self defeating proposition.”
He said the case was a ‘rare example’ of a government listening to the community but added that the government ‘would not be faced with this litigation now if it had retained that power to cancel mining and petroleum licences on public interest grounds.’
The state government recently repealed the public interest ground for the cancellation of mining and petroleum licences.
“Mining legislation needs a complete overhaul so that proper democratic and public interest values are given precedence over cosy arrangements for the industry”, Mr Ricketts said.
Falling share price
The request for a judicial review follows reports indicating the ICAC referral and suspension led to $18 million being wiped off the company’s share value last month.
Shares were trading at $0.049 yesterday, after sitting around $1.50 back in 2008.
Echonetdaily reported yesterday that the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption was not proceeding further with NSW energy minister Anthony Roberts’s referral of Metgasco over its shareholding.
But the flipside was that the NSW Office of Coal Seam Gas was holding fast on its decision to suspend the licence, inviting the company to make further submissions by Friday regarding its community consultation process.
In a confidential letter to Metgasco’s lawyers released by the company, the ICAC said it could only investigate information that suggested there was ‘a reasonable likelihood that a public official had engaged in corrupt conduct.’
‘Private sector individuals and/or companies may fall within the ICAC’s jurisdiction where their conduct adversely effects, either directly or indirectly, the exercise of official functions by a public official and/or authority’, the letter said.
The letter from the ICAC goes on to say there ‘is no information currently before the commission that Metgasco’s share arrangements fall within the ICAC’s jurisdiction’.
Nevertheless, Mr Roberts maintained that Metgasco’s licence was suspended due to concerns the company had not adequately consulted with the community.
He said the NSW Office of Coal Seam Gas had advised him the community had expressed ‘fundamental concerns’ about the way in which Metgasco had characterised its activities.
The OCSG had given Metgasco until this Friday to provide further submissions regarding its community consultation process, which anti-gas campaigners have consistently described as ‘inadequate’, ‘misguided’, or most recently, ‘miserable’.
Lock the Gate’s northern rivers spokesman Ian Gaillard said this week that the company’s idea of consultation was ‘to tell the community how they were going to go about doing something instead of listening to concerns being raised by various sectors’.
The OCSG had told Metgasco ‘that works could be recommenced under the activity approval once an acceptable community consultation plan is in place and the company demonstrates an ability to appropriately engage with the community, in compliance with relevant obligations under PEL 16.’
Meanwhile, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association yesterday told the Australian newspaper, ‘The industry is concerned that the presence of protesters at an operational site should not mean that genuine consultation with the community has been ineffective.’