Locals protesting against the development of an unconventional gas project on the north coast of NSW have won a small but significant victory, after the drilling licence of Sydney-based resources company Metgasco was suspended and the case referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
NSW energy minister Anthony Roberts announced the decision on Thursday morning, citing insufficient community consultation, just days before police were expected to be called in to break up a long-standing community-led protest on the Bentley site, near Lismore.
Fairfax reports that up to 800 police were due to enter the protest camp as early as Monday to disperse thousands of people – described in a Metgasco media release as “extremist protestors” – who had set up camp at the site and were blockading it for several weeks.
According to reports, the community was particularly opposed to Metgasco’s plans to drill for “tight gas” – unconventional gas in tight sands – which would require fracking, a drilling practice that has long been under an environmental cloud due to its associated with the contamination of nearby water supplies.
Roberts said the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) had taken the action against Metgasco because the company did not fulfill a condition of its exploration licence, namely to undertake genuine and effective consultation with the community as required.
“I have been advised by OCSG that fundamental concerns have been expressed by members of the affected community about the way in which Metgasco has characterised its activities,” Roberts said, adding that he had written to ICAC “following receipt of information concerning shareholdings and interests in Metgasco Limited.
“In accordance with Section 11 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act, I have referred this to the Commissioner to ensure that any decisions pertaining to PEL 16 have been made entirely properly and without any undue interest or influence,” Roberts said.
The Australian Greens have welcomed the state governments decision – describing the local community as “inspirational” for its success in “shaming” the state government into action, but say a suspension isn’t enough.
“The New South Wales government should completely overturn this licence, especially given the lack of community consultation and the ICAC referral,” said Greens mining spokesperson Larissa Waters.
“Communities should not have to protest day in and day out to protect their land and water from contamination – they should have the right to say no to the big mining companies,” Senator Waters said.
“The Greens are working in the federal Parliament to give landholders the right to say no to unconventional gas. Unfortunately, to date, we have not received any support from the old parties, including the Nationals.
“We hope the community’s efforts at Bentley will finally convince the old parties to support the Greens standing up for farmers against coal seam gas in Parliament.”