The NSW Supreme Court last week refused a submission from junior gas explorer Metgasco to obtain documents used by the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OSCG) in making its decision to suspend Metgasco’s Petroleum Exploration Licence 16 over farmland at Bentley.
The ruling is yet another blow for the would-be gas miner, which is taking the state government to court over its decision to suspend the licence due to insufficient public consultation.
Metgasco had issued the government with a ‘Notice to Produce’ covering a large amount of material relating to its decision.
But in handing down his judgement on the matter, Justice Davies described the notice as ‘premature’ and ‘verging on the oppressive’.
Lawyers representing the Crown had argued that the notice was unnecessary, as most of the documents would anyway be made available during the normal process of discovery in the lead-up to the October court hearing.
But Justice Davies went further and added, ‘I do not consider that what is sought in the Notice to Produce complies with what may be sought…’
He added that the ‘exceptional circumstances’ required to approve such a notice had not been satisfactorily proven.
The decision has been welcomed by Gasfield Free Northern Rivers, whose spokesperson Ian Gaillard has accused the company of using ‘bully-boy tactics’ and reiterated that gas mining would never receive a ‘social licence’ in the northern rivers.
‘Metgasco’s attempt to rush the court process by seeking to obtain documents prematurely has been slapped down by the Supreme Court of NSW, and Metgasco ordered to pay costs,’ said Mr Gaillard.
‘Rather than following due process, Metgasco is intent to rush the court process by prematurely seeking documents that will eventually be produced in due course.
‘This judgement highlights the significant volume of documents generated by Metgasco’s failed community consultation, with some 1032 documents amounting to 50,155 pages identified as being potentially relevant to the decision.
‘The decision by the Office of Coal Seam Gas to suspend Metgasco’s drilling operations at Bentley is correct and justified in light of the significant failure of Metgasco to undertake adequate community consultation.
‘Metgasco’s attempts to overturn this decision is a last-ditch attempt by a failed company that has no future in the northern rivers,’
‘While this is an interim judgement by the court in the lead-up to the full hearing in October, it demonstrates Metgasco’s unwillingness to work with the government by addressing its significant community consultation failings.
‘While Metgasco continues to use these bully-boy tactics, it will never obtain a social licence to operate in the northern rivers,’ Mr Gaillard said.
The company has yet to make a public comment on the matter.