The petroleum exploration licence (PEL) covering a large swathe of the northern rivers has been on-sold for $2.5 million.
The Greens say that the purchase by the AJ Lucas Group of Dart Energy’s PEL 445 was ‘a clear indication that the investment community believes the Liberals and Nationals intend to roll out coal seam gas across NSW if elected on March 28’.
The sale follows the NSW Labor opposition’s promise to ban coal seam gas (CSG) on the northern rivers and not pay compensation to miner Metgasco for cancelling its exploration licence has riled the company’s managing director.
Opposition leader Luke Foley last Friday confirmed to Echonetdaily during his visit to the north coast that he believes north coast CSG licences can be cancelled without paying out taxpayer money to do so.
But Metgasco’s chief executive Peter Henderson disagrees, saying if a government wants to cancel its licence after the millions it had spent to date on exploration, that was ‘serious business’ and his company would look at ‘serious compensation’ as a result.
Mr Henderson told the ABC the government had given the company the ‘right’ to explore and drill wells by granting it an exploration licence and it therefore had a ‘commitment to go ahead explore and drill wells to find gas’.
He said the company had spent around $120 million on its north coast venture to date.
But anti-CSG campaigners say taxpayers should not have to pay mining companies compensation as it is a speculative business, and money spent trying to find gas was part of the risk they took in trying to make huge profits.
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers also said this week’s announcement by NSW resources minister Anthony Roberts cancelling a petroleum exploration licence (PEL) in the Grafton region was a ‘cynical exercise’.
‘This is the cancellation of a small inactive licence, the fact remains that the current Liberal-National government is actively supporting the roll out of the CSG industry across large parts of our region’, spokesperson Elly Bird said.
‘This government has already renewed Metgasco’s most active CSG licence areas (PELs 13 and 16), as well as the largest licence area in the region (Igas’s PEL 445), which covers Lismore, Nimbin and Kyogle and parts of the water supply area of major towns across the region, including Ballina and Byron Bay,’ Ms Bird said.
‘This is a cynical and tokenistic attempt by the Liberal-National government to look like they are doing something on this issue when they could have acted decisively long ago by refusing to renew the Metgasco and Igas licences that were quietly renewed despite repeated calls from the community for their cancellation.
‘The communities of this region are not stupid and will not be deceived by this latest gimmick from the government.
‘They are angry that our local Nationals MPs have the audacity to repeatedly ignore the community’s wishes over many years only to mock them with token actions at election time,’ she said.
The CSG issue is hotting up as one of the biggest for the 28 March election, with Labor seeing a chance to win back north coast seats of Ballina, Tweed and Lismore on the back of its commitment to ban the industry in those areas.
According to polling analysts, the issue has seriously alarmed the Baird government for it to have suspended exploration licences in sensitive areas and promised to toughen up regulation.
But Labor ‘s tougher line on banning the industry altogether has put the Nationals which hold the seats on the back foot.
Meanwhile, Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said the AJ Lucas Group announced to the ASX yesterday that it had purchased PEL 445 as well as PEL 456 in the Upper Hunter and PEL 458 over Newcastle, which until recently were owed by Dart Energy, a subsidiary of UK based company IGas.
‘A company like AJ Lucas would not be making an investment decision like this unless they were confident that they could develop coal seam gas after the election with the support of Mike Baird and the Nationals,’ Mr Buckingham said..
‘This proves that the recent flurry of token coal seam gas license cancellations by the Baird government is nothing more than a cynical election stunt designed to try to hide their pro-csg agenda from a sceptical public.
‘If you live in the northern rivers, Newcastle or the Upper Hunter then the message this purchase sends is clear – if Mike Baird and the Nationals are returned to power they will roll out coal seam gas across your community.
‘Only the Greens support a complete and permanent ban on coal seam gas across NSW,’ Mr Buckingham said.