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George: Forget Metgasco and buy back licence

UPDATE, 4.40pm: LISMORE MP Thomas George has declared Lismore City Council should forget taking Metgasco to court, and instead pool its legal money with the State Government to buy back Metgasco's mining licence.

Mr George was speaking on Lismore councillors' vote for staff to prepare legal action against the company's plans to undertake seismic testing in Rock Valley next month.

"The council wants it stopped, but I don't believe they're in a situation where they can stop it," Mr George said.

"However, they said they are prepared to spend money on legal fees to have it stopped.

"My challenge to Lismore City Council and Mayor Jenny Dowell is to join with the government and put whatever funds they have into purchasing back the PEL.

"We've been trying to purchase it back.

"Now we challenge the council to match the government's funding."

But Mayor Jenny Dowell dubbed Mr George's suggestion "ridiculous".

"We're not prepared to give any money to Metgasco," Cr Dowell said.

"We haven't committed any money on a court case.

"We said we would ask our staff to investigate legal action and come back to council before making any decision.

"The licence has nothing to do with Lismore City Council and we would not contemplate participating in any kind of buy-off."

The mayor said her immediate concern was the personal safety for Lismore residents, predicting a large "physical blockade" when the company's contractors turned up.

"My concerns are for people's safety… and I think any action by Metgasco on lands in our local government area would create potential injury.

Metgasco chief Peter Henderson is meanwhile adamant Metgasco has a legal right to carry out its seismic operation.

"The (NSW) government is responsible for resource development, not local councils," he said.

"We would prefer to have Lismore City Council respect our rights and allow us to proceed."

Bentley Protectors secretary Rosemary Joseph said Metgasco was being "deliberately provocative", and "clearly intended for the community to get up in arms".

She said the people would "do whatever we need to do to stop it happening".

"At the moment we're waiting to see what the next move is either by Metgasco or the government. None of the community will take this lying down," Mrs Joseph said.

"We are absolutely determined that they do not get a foot in the door. It really is the thin edge of the wedge... any seismic is clearly geared to enable them to go back and drill at Rosella."

"We all want this to end."

UPDATE, 2pm: METGASCO CEO Peter Henderson says he is confident the company can proceed with seismic testing on Lismore local government roads despite councillors last night resolving to oppose the operation and potentially commence legal action against the company.

Mr Henderson added that the council was welcome to challenge the company in court but it would be a "waste" of ratepayer's funds as well as court time.

"We have the approval of the NSW Government which gives us the right and obligation to explore," Mr Henderson said.

"Our legal advice is we have the right to do it.

"We would prefer to have Lismore City Council respect our rights and allow us to proceed.

"Just look at the big picture, wouldn't it be absurd if the government could issue licences to gas companies, and a local council could say 'oh no, we don't like that industry, so we're going to veto it'.

"The (NSW) government is responsible for resource development, not local councils."

But Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said while the council preferred the issue not end up in the courts, it wouldn't shy away from that option.

Another element of last night's resolution at Lismore's council meeting was to write to Resources Minister Anthony Roberts to request the government intervene.

"I hope the state government will resolve this before Metgasco will try to do anything on the ground," Cr Dowell said.

The mayor said one her immediate concerns was of personal safety for Lismore residents, predicting a large "physical blockade" if and when the company's contractors turned up.

"My concerns are people's safety… and I think any action by Metgasco on lands in our local government area would create potential injury.

"That's my immediate concern. The other part of it is we have had consistent and strong messages that this industry is not welcome here.

"Any sensible business would have got the message by now.

"The Premier and Minister need to understand that and resolve this situation this as soon as possible.

Metgasco is still hoping to have the seismic testing happen by the end of November but won't be able to pin down the timing for a couple more weeks.

It plans to test 16km of ground along Rock Valley Rd, Rock Valley, and Bungabee Rd, Bentley.

Mr Henderson said it would provide data on "conventional and tight gas prospects" around the Rosella well at Bentley.

"Our primary target in Rosella is a conventional well; I noticed the resolution last night was very focused on unconventional area," he added.

"It hopefully won't need fracking."

 

ORIGINAL STORY: IN case the big signs on the outskirts of town didn't give it away, Lismore City Council would like you to know it opposes coal seam gas.

The council last night night voted in favour of an urgency motion put by Deputy Mayor Simon Clough reaffirming its opposition to coal seam gas and any such related activities on land owned or controlled by the council.

The motion also urges the council to take to the courts to prevent Metgasco from carrying out planned seismic testing within the council's borders next month.

Metgasco's announcement it would do seismic testing on Rock Valley and Bungabee roads late next month has fired up anti-gas sentiment even further within the council.

Mayor Jenny Dowell has described the plans as an "insult to the community" and said she would personally take part in protests against Metgasco and recently hit out at the company on Facebook for advertising its plans in The Northern Star before officially notifiying the council.

In a statement released shortly before last night's ordinary council meeting, Cr Clough said that failure was part of the reason he put the urgency motion to the council.

"Metgasco seems intent on carrying out seismic testing near the Bentley well site without approaching Lismore City Council for permission to use it roads and improvements," Cr Simon Clough said in the statement.

"It is because of this attitude that I have put an urgency motion to Council for tonight's meeting.

"The motion will reaffirm Council's position to refuse access to Metgasco and any other companies for any coal seam gas operations, seismic testing, drilling and associated activities on Council owned and operated land and impose a moratorium on all coal seam gas on Council owned and operated land.

"The urgency motion also encourages Council to take whatever legal action necessary to prevent Metgasco and any other exploration company from carrying out seismic testing on any Council roads."

In his statement, Cr Clough points to the poll conducted by Lismore City Council, hotly contested by Metgasco, asking residents "Do you support coal seam gas (CSG) exploration and production in the Lismore City Council area?"

Of 24,878 votes cast in the poll, 21,608, or 86.86% said no.

"Our community has unequivocally expressed its opposition to the unconventional gas industry," Cr Clough says in the statement. "I believe it is Council's responsibility to take legal steps to prevent unconventional gas operations, seismic testing, drilling and associated activities on Council owned and operated land."

More recent polls published The Northern Star website, although lacking the sample size or the sampling rigour of the poll done for the council by Southern Cross University, suggest the opposition highlighted in the council poll continues.

A total 90% of 557 respondents to one of the polls agreed Metgasco should not be allowed to do seismic testing at Rock Valley and more than half of the second said they would definitely take part in any protest held against the plans.

Only 52 of the 434 respondents (about 11%) in the second poll said there was "no way" they would join a protest against seismic testing.

Topics:  coal seam gas, csg, lismore city council, metgasco



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