Darren Coyne & Chris Dobney
The NSW Government has purchased Petroleum Exploration Licence (PEL) 445 at the cost of $1 million.
The PEL, which covers areas around Kyogle, Lismore, Nimbin and Evans Head, was renewed by the government in December last year.
Lismore MP Thomas George said the buy-back had removed 565,693 hectares of the northern rivers from ‘Labor’s coal seam gas footprint’.
Mr George said it was the 17th PEL to be purchased under the government’s Gas Plan, leaving less than eight per cent of the state still subject to possible coal seam gas mining.
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers welcomed the announcement but said the government now had to resolve PELs owned by Metgasco.
‘We are very pleased that the government has taken this important step and reduced the number of licences covering the Northern Rivers,’ Gasfield Free Northern Rivers regional coordinator Elly Bird said.
‘PEL 445 covers a large area from the border right down to the Clarence and those communities can now rest easy that they are no longer under licence.
‘We would like to take this opportunity to thank Thomas George and Anthony Roberts for their efforts and for delivering on the election commitment to purchase this PEL.
‘All eyes should now turn to the remaining licences held by Metgasco. As the Premier himself has pointed out on ABC radio, ‘Metgasco has no social contract to drill in the Northern Rivers’
‘While the buy back of PEL 445 is very welcome the reality is that it’s Metgasco’s licence areas that are the real threat. The final stage in delivering a Gasfield Free Northern Rivers is to deal with Metgasco once and for all.
‘With Metgasco’s recent announcement that they plan to undertake seismic acquisition within the month and that they are planning to return to Bentley, the Government needs to act urgently to prevent this activity taking place.
‘The communities of Rock Valley, Bentley and surrounds are very ready to take action to protect their land, water and future from invasive gas fields.’
Just last Saturday, some 300 people rallied at Rock Valley to protest Metgasco’s planned return to the area.
And northern rivers Greens convener Adam Guise, who was only narrowly defeated by Mr George at the state election in March, called upon him to resign for failing to deliver on promised buy-backs of PELs in his electorate.
But Mr George said he was continuing to work towards the removal of other PELs in the area.
‘Through buy-backs this government now reduced the number of PELs in the northern rivers from seven – all of them granted by the former Labor Government – to three.
He said the government – which has been negotiating with Metgasco – was working to reduce the number of PELs further.
Greens oppose buy-outs
The Greens federal candidate for Richmond, Dawn Walker, welcomed the move, which she said ‘will bring relief to many.’
But she criticised the use of government funds and said the licences should have been cancelled without taxpayers’ money being used to bail out the mining companies involved.
‘The Greens have repeatedly called on the government to cancel all coal seam gas licences in the northern rivers without compensation. Taxpayers’ funds should not be used to compensate speculative mining companies,’ Ms Walker said.
She added that ‘the threat of coal seam gas mining still remains. Metgasco said it is returning to explore for gas in Rock Valley near Lismore in mid November, and still holds active gas licences over our region including Bentley and Casino.
‘Any exploration, drilling or gas licence in our region threatens the clean, green image of our world renowned agricultural and tourism industries. The government should end its love-affair with dirty coal seam gas and instead embrace a job rich, clean energy future,’ Ms Walker said.
Greens Ballina MP Tamara Smith said, ‘the deafening roar from the community is being heard, and the buyback of PEL 445 is an important first step in stopping coal seam gas in the northern rivers .’
‘The Greens have always stood with the community in their fight to protect the northern rivers from coal seam gas, and will continue to hold the Government to account,’ Ms Smith said.
Lock the Tweed spokesperson Michael McNamara said the announcement the community ‘taking that strong stand and… remaining resolute in their opposition to gasfield industrialisation of the Tweed Valley and the broader northern rivers’
‘I want to thank everyone that was involved in organising and attending the mass demonstration of community opposition in Murwillumbah three years ago in October 2012,’ Mr McNamara said.
‘I want to thank Tweed Shire Council for supporting the campaign, including signage in those communities that declared Gasfield Free’’
‘It is only because of this strong stand right across the community that we see action on this issue today’
‘It is about time that the government delivered on what was a very clear and unambiguous election pledge by the member for Lismore, Thomas George.’
‘Mr George had to be dragged kicking and screaming to make that pledge during the election he almost lost’
‘It would have been far better if Mr George and the other north coast Nationals MPs had listened to their communities much earlier,’ Mr McNamara said.