Councillor gives OK for gas tests

LISMORE City Councillor Peter Graham denies there is any conflict of interest over a private access agreement he signed with coal-seam gas company Metgasco last week.

Cr Graham was one of two councillors who voted against last month's moratorium banning all coal-seam gas-related activity on council-owned-or-controlled land.

Details of Cr Graham's deal with Metgasco were published on the Facebook page of a local protest group, prompting a handful of emails and phone calls accusing him of selling farmers out.

"That's life when you get in the public arena," he said philosophically. "But you learn to deal with it.

"In my mind this isn't a council issue, it's a private issue; my family decided we wanted to explore it as we want more information."

Cr Graham's access agreement allows Metgasco to conduct low-impact seismic testing as part of its exploratory program.

The program received a major set-back, with the moratorium, forcing it to conduct seismic testing from private properties where permission has been received. Despite legal advice suggesting they would win a NSW Land and Environment Court challenge, a Metgasco spokesperson said yesterday the company had decided not to fight it.

Cr Graham signed the agreement last week, about three weeks after the council vote, but he added that he waived a small fee normally paid to landholders.

"I had no idea this was coming prior to the December meeting, so there was no conflict before and I am in the process of getting legal advice and writing a letter to the general manager," he said.

"I have also spoken to the Mayor and as I understand it, it is a non-pecuniary interest."

While cautiously supportive of the coal-seam gas industry, Cr Graham added he believed there was not enough regulation and not enough information.

"The lack of regulation is not good enough - look, my family have been farming for over five generations and the last thing I want is somebody to come in and contaminate my underground water," Cr Graham said.

"I understand there are problems in Queensland but there are always companies that make it difficult for others trying to do the right thing."

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