Lismore council has voted against a seismic testing application by Metgasco and imposed a full moratorium pending further legal, community and industry consultation.
Lismore council has voted against a seismic testing application by Metgasco and imposed a full moratorium pending further legal, community and industry consultation. David Nielsen

Council blocks CSG testing

LISMORE City Council has received unprecedented community support for its popular, though legally uncertain, moratorium on coal seam gas activities on all council-controlled land.

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said she had been flooded with emails and phone calls from a wide range of community members who were "one-hundred per cent supportive" of the council's controversial decision.

At its final meeting for 2011 last week, the council rejected initial legal advice and voted six to five to reject a seismic testing application by Metgasco along up to 14 kilometres of council road reserves at Rock Valley, before imposing a full moratorium (nine to two) pending further legal, community and industry consultation.

"It is now up to Metgasco to decide if they want to override council's refusal of this application, and our decision to impose a moratorium on further applications," Cr Dowell said.

"If they choose to go to a higher authority, they do so in the knowledge that not only is council against their activities, but so is the community at large."

Metgasco chief Peter Henderson was fiercely critical of the council arguing it had no authority to block the company and the action threatened to deprive the Northern Rivers of "a significant and environmentally attractive source of gas (and) infrastructure needs".

"In opposing our activities and incurring additional legal costs in challenging its own staff's advice, Lismore Council might wish to question if it is spending rate-payers' money in a responsible manner," he said.

"We aim to be a long-term participant in the Northern Rivers region and would still prefer to have the support of council for our activities.

"As such, Metgasco is reviewing its position in regard to the proposed seismic activity in Lismore Council areas."

Lismore City Council's decision follows a similar moratorium at Moree Plains Shire Council and preceded another at Gloucester Shire Council last Thursday.

Cr Dowell said the pressure was now on other councils to act, particularly those on the Northern Rivers, in order to send a strong message to Macquarie Street.

"I would imagine now that pressure will start to build on the NSW Government for a response," Cr Dowell said.

"The previous motion of council (at the November meeting) urged State and Federal governments to come up with polices; that's also the position of the Local Government Association and the shires associations too.

"It should not be up to individual councils to be searching how they can manage something like this.

"It needs to be a State Government initiative - with Federal Government input - on State-wide legislation that would give powers to councils to reflect what their communities want."

Cr Dowell added that there was too much conflicting information in the public domain for councillors to make adequately informed decisions.

"It is difficult because as soon as something is said either in a hearing or online there's something else that refutes it.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there and it really does need clarifying."

The NSW Greens spokesperson on mining Jeremy Buckingham said more and more councils were "listening to the concerns of their communities" and taking action against the risks of coal seam gas.

"They are filling the void made by a State Government who has been unwilling to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry," Mr Buckingham said.

"The calls for a State-wide moratorium are coming from all corners - farmers, environmentalists, the Senate Inquiry, Alan Jones, and councils: it is a broad constituency.

"The Greens congratulate Lismore Council for adopting the precautionary principle to protect their land and water.

"There are too many unknowns about coal-seam gas so a moratorium is a sensible policy until the risks can be accurately assessed and the community can make a decision on whether this industry should be granted a social licence."

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