Metgasco employee Stuart George outside the Metgasco office on Barker Street in Casino. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star
Metgasco employee Stuart George outside the Metgasco office on Barker Street in Casino. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star Marc Stapelberg

Metgasco to leave Northern Rivers if buy-back approved

METGASCO will close its Casino office and leave the Northern Rivers for good if shareholders endorse the Baird government's $25 million buyout offer of its three Northern rivers exploration licences.

But with some angry shareholders threatening class actions over the agreement, it is far from a sure bet.

Not a done deal yet

And if shareholders did rebel and reject the in-priniciple deal, Metgasco will pick up the ball again, restarting its seismic testing and drilling operation and continue its legal action for compensation against the government.

"We're not taking the shareholder vote for granted," Metgasco chief executive Peter Henderson said this morning.

"We recognise that while some shareholders think our position was pragmatic and in the best interests of the company, there are some shareholders who are very angry and frustrated with what's happened over the last four years."

"Some would prefer to keep fighting and fighting; others think we have done a deal for figure which is far too low.

"They need to decide how badly they feel about it. That's something which the board of directors have no choice over." 

COMMUNITY SPOKEN: Knitting Nanas and supporters outside the new Metgasco office in Barker Street, Casino. The Nationals at federal and state level for Page and Clarence agree they don't want CSG on the Northern Rivers. Photo Samantha Elley / Express Examiner
COMMUNITY SPOKEN: Knitting Nanas and supporters outside the new Metgasco office in Barker Street, Casino. The Nationals at federal and state level for Page and Clarence agree they don't want CSG on the Northern Rivers. Photo Samantha Elley / Express Examiner Samantha Elley

Major assets

Mr Henderson explained that the three gas exploration licences, which the company has spent close to $125 million on so far, represented the company's only assets and it was impossible to sell them off (and at a major loss) without shareholder approval.

 "If shareholders vote against the measure, we will continue where we were with seismic and drilling. Ultimately the shareholders have the final say."

If on the other hand they approve the deal, the company will shut its office and start looking not just outside the region but outside the state, and even overseas.

Good geology

Mr Henderson said it would target places with the obvious requirement of "good geology" but now with an even greater emphasis on "government support" and "prompt and sensible (regulatory) decisions so you can in fact run a business."

Off that list, perhaps permanently, is NSW, and Victoria, where anti-gasfield lobbyists have had great success at influencing public perceptions about the industry.

Asked about where the company found itself in this position of returning virtually 20c in the dollar to shareholders, Mr Henderson acknowledged the anti-fossil fuel movement as "very successful at influencing community attitudes" which he said had "created an excessive amount of fear and concern".

"I think the anti- fossil fuel movement has been effective and continues to be effective," he said.

On the other hand, "our industry had not been very successful at explaining to people why we're safe… why our benefits our overwhelmingly positive".

Rational debate needed

Mr Henderson called for a "rational debate" on energy sources, removed from the 'fossil fuels are bad, renewables are good' mentality, saying no energy sources, be it solar, wind, gas or oil were "sacred in their own right".

"If we didn't need oil and gas we wouldn't be drilling wells for it."

The extraordinary meeting at which shareholders will decide the company's future is planned for early December.  



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