Wanda Halden, a member of Rock Valley GAS Rangers.
Wanda Halden, a member of Rock Valley GAS Rangers.

Council acts on CSG tip off

Lismore City Council has withdrawn support for seismic testing by Metgasco on Council-owned land in the Rock Valley area after discovering staff had approved an application without the councillors' knowledge.

On September 1 a Council staffer sent a letter to Metgasco approving the testing, but it wasn't until after Tuesday night's Council meeting that councillors became aware of the approval.

Having learnt of an application by Metgasco, Mayor Jenny Dowell moved an 'urgency motion' during the meeting that all requests for CSG and mineral testing or exploration on Council owned or administered land be brought before the Council for consideration. However it wasn't until after the motion had been passed and the meeting concluded that Mayor Dowell became aware that approval had already been granted following a discussion with Rock Valley resident Wanda Halden, who had been liaising with Council staff. Mayor Dowell took swift action and by Wednesday lunchtime Metgasco had been advised that Council's permission had been rescinded.

"Thanks to the vigilance of the community we now have a better process in place to deal with this and future applications," Mayor Dowell said.

Council is still unclear about its legal position in relation to CSG and mineral mining applications and has requested guidelines from the state and federal government about applications on Crown or Council-owned land.

Mayor Dowell said the urgency motion ensured all future applications would be brought before Council in the interests of transparency.

"Councils have very little say and many communities are getting very concerned that they have such little say," Mayor Dowell said. "We may not have the powers to approve them (applications) or knock them back. The advantage of it coming to Council is it allows public airing... it allows more time for assessment of the request and its implications and it allows public scrutiny of the elected councillors."

The Council made its feelings about CSG mining known at a hearing of the NSW CSG Parliamentary Inquiry that was held in Alstonville on September 21.

"I was asked would Council approve CSG if health and safety issues were addressed," Mayor Dowell said. "My response was that I did not believe the current Council would approve it, with the current political make-up of Council, as there were other issues other than safety such as the loss of prime agricultural land, the impact across our countryside of drills and pipes, the loss of amenity for neighbouring properties - that's because our farms are closer together than out west - and because of the social split that's likely in our community over this issue."

Wanda Halden from Rock Valley GAS Rangers discovered the approval after a local claimed they sighted a CSG drilling truck and she went digging through reports on the Department of Primary Industries website. After questioning officers she was emailed an amended document that was not publicly displayed on the website.

She has now called on Council to appoint a CSG liaison officer based in Lismore because she found correspondence with Council staff difficult. She said she was told by staff that they weren't aware the Metgasco application was CSG related.

"It is obvious to me that Council has proven it is not equipped to thoroughly deal with the threat that CSG poses... and Metgasco has a poor-track record of public consultation," Wanda said. "At the Invercauld House meeting they locked the doors and people were prohibited from being part of the meeting and they have not spoken to Rock Valley residents in person, by mail or telephone about this testing."

Mayor Dowell said appointing a liaison officer was not something that could be done immediately and would have to be debated by councillors.

"That is a budgetary consideration so I cannot see that happening in the short term... it would have implications for other parts of our budget."

Boudicca Cerese from Kyogle Group Against Gas said this was a classic case of communities remaining ignorant because vital information was not being made public.

"The details of this seismic survey are contained in a Review of Environmental Factors (REF) that was approved last year and then revised in September 2011 to include new sites around Rock Valley. The original document has been on the government website since last year but the revised document is unavailable, so there has been no way for the Rock Valley residents to find out that this is planned for their area," she explained.

Wanda has now begun talking to Rock Valley residents and farmers about the implications of CSG mining in the valley. Since claims a drilling truck was spotted the trail has gone cold and she urges locals to keep their eyes peeled for any Metgasco activity around Hayter Road.

She said she was wholeheartedly encouraged by the fact Mayor Dowell and Council has acted so fast but is still "on guard".

"It's great Council has shown itself to be working with the community and responding to its constituents," Wanda said. "But if we find any CSG equipment or vehicles in our valley I will be rallying Rock Valley Gas Ranger members, residents and the wider community to blockade just like the Liverpoool Plains farmers.

"I see blockading as part of adopting precautionary measures to ensure all conditions are met before any CSG activities are conducted… Some community members question the legality over blockading to protect their farmlands and aquifers from CSG decimation, but I say that morals should prevail over any unjust laws."

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