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April 11, 2021

CSG win prompts calls to divest from fossil fuels

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A banner that was hung at the Bentley gas well site . Photo Marie Cameron
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The proposed buyback of coal seam gas licences in the northern rivers area has prompted renewed calls to divest in fossil fuel investments.

Lismore and Byron councils have already chosen to pull their money out of investments in fossil fuels, and now other councils and individuals are being urged to do the same.

The NSW Government announced yesterday that it had struck a deal with Metgasco to buy back three petroleum exploration licences for $25million.

The deal is subject to the approval of Metgasco shareholders.

Metgasco said the date of the shareholders’ meeting to consider the proposal was likely to be towards the end of December and would be announced shortly.

See our photo gallery of yesterday’s celebrations in Lismore.

Lock the Tweed spokesperson Michael McNamara said yesterday’s announcement effectively meant the end of CSG exploration in the northern rivers area.

But he said now was the time to stand with other communities still facing the threat of CSG exploration.

‘One way we can work towards the end of this industry generally is to focus on individuals and organisations divesting from investments in fossil fuels,’ he said.

‘Local government has a strong leadership role to play in this regard.

‘Tweed Shire Council has approximately $200 million invested, comprising ratepayer funds, various grants and other funds such as developer contributions.

‘A report to council in August 2015 identified that less than 40 per cent of these funds are held in what can be described as ethical investments.

‘This means that any of the more than 60 per cent remaining funds, potentially over $120 million, may be invested, either directly or indirectly, in fossil fuel projects including coal and CSG.’

Mr McNamara’s call is unlikely to go over too well with Metgasco investors, many of whom would take a major hit on their investments if the proposed $25 million buyback is approved.

Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson. Photo Metgasco
Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson. Photo Metgasco

Metgasco’s managing director Peter Henderson told ABC radio that anyone who purchased shares at 50 or 60 cents a few years ago would take a hit as shares were now worth just seven cents.

‘So clearly there are some shareholders who will have lost a lot of money in their investment in Metgasco, and they’re obviously disappointed and some are very angry.’

Mr Henderson said the situation was disappointing, given the company invested more than $120 million in the region over the last decade.

One of those investors, John Vaughan of Byron Bay told the ABC that the government’s offer should recognize the value of the gas in the Clarence-Moreton Basin.

‘Certainly not the $4-500 million, but at least something that reflected the true value of the resource which the Government is effectively expropriating after the development of the resource,’ he said.

‘It might have been $3-400 million, but something that would have been reasonably fair for the decade or so that the shareholders have been funding this project.’

He said the majority of shareholders who had been with Metgasco for some time would be extremely disappointed by the announcement.

And while that may be so, opponents of the coal seam gas industry were the exact opposite.

Gasfield Free Northern Rivers co-coordinator, Elly Bird said yesterday’s announcement was something that people around the region had been working for over the past three years.

‘We’re over the moon that the government and the company have finally seen the light and decided that the community’s rejection of unconventional gas could not be overcome,’ Ms Bird said.

Ross Joseph, a landholder who lives within one of the licences said: ‘We’re grateful to the Government for finally acting to cancel these licences, and for stopping the drilling at Bentley last year. More than that, we’re just so proud of our community for coming together to turn away unsafe and unwelcome industrialisation of our beautiful region.’

Gasfield Free Northern Rivers spokesman Ian Gaillard shakes the hand of Lismore MP Thomas George. (Darren Coyne)
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers spokesman Ian Gaillard shakes the hand of Lismore MP Thomas George. (Darren Coyne)

Despite the jubilation of yesterday’s announcement, Ms Bird warned that the fight was not over yet.

‘There’s nothing to stop the government granting new licences to explore for gas in our region, and until there is protection in law for a gasfield free northern rivers, we will continue to work together to achieve that.’

The NSW Labor opposition agreed, saying the only way to truly protect the region was with legislation.

NSW Shadow Energy Minister Adam Searle said buying back Metgasco’s licences was a good first step towards protecting the region.

Mr Searle and Shadow North Coast Minister Walt Secord called on the Liberal and National parties to support Labor’s Coal Seam and Other Unconventional Gas Moratorium Bill 2015.

They said Labor’s Bill would permanently protect the northern rivers from CSG and unconventional gas projects by creating a ‘no-go zone’ across the region.

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