Council takes a side on unconventional gas

Richmond Valley Council has reviewed its ‘neutral’ positioning statement.
Richmond Valley Council has reviewed its ‘neutral’ positioning statement. Patrick Gorbunovs

RICHMOND Valley Council has taken a strong position against unconventional gas mining in the area after reviewing its 'neutral' positioning statement.

A motion put up by councillor Daniel Simpson was supported five votes to two, with Mayor Ernie Bennett and councillor Col Sullivan voting against it.

The motion states: "That the Richmond Valley Council believes that given its current understandings and existing knowledge base around the unconventional gas industry, the potential effects on the environment, the uncertainty surrounding fracking and the strongly expressed community views against the unconventional gas industry, that it cannot support the development of the unconventional gas industry in this local government area at this time. Further to this, that council affirms its strong opposition to fracking in any form."

The council's position is largely symbolic given that the State Government regulates mining and exploration activity, but it does bring Richmond Valley Council in line with Lismore, Ballina, Byron and Kyogle councils, which have all previously taken positions against the development of the industry in the Northern Rivers.

Cr Simpson, who ran for election on Richmond Valley Council with the Lock The Gate logo on his promotional material, said it was time for the council to take a stronger stand.

"Hopefully it creates a bit of a unified voice with the rest of the Northern Rivers that we don't want this in our area," he said.

Cr Bennett said he would now put forward the council's position, but he would also put his own point of view forward.

"As mayor it is my job to represent the whole community," he said.

"I have had a number of calls (seven) from people thanking me from people who want the industry...

"There is a message that industry could feel unsure of the future if council chops and changes its position. It's not good for any industry," he said.

Metgasco chief executive Peter Henderson said the company was "clearly disappointed" by the council's vote.

"In the past the council has maintained a position of neutrality, which we believed was prudent.

"It is clearly a concern, but we are confident that our industry is safe."

Mr Henderson said the wording in the council's motion that it didn't support CSG "given its current understandings and existing knowledge base" indicated the council could change its mind in the future with more information.

He also said Metgasco would continue to work with Richmond Valley councillors "as part of our regular process" and all future dealings would remain professional.

Gasfield Free Northern Rivers spokesman Dean Draper called the council's decision a "watershed moment".

"The turnaround in council's position is a direct response to the dedicated actions of local community members who have been tireless in their efforts to raise awareness about the risks of this industry and seek support from council to represent their concerns," Mr Draper said.

Topics:  richmond valley council unconventional gas

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