State govt fast-tracked Metgasco licence

GREENS MLC Jeremy Buckingham has released Department of Resources documents appearing to show the State Government was trying to fast-track Metgasco's production licence and make an announcement to the industry before the department had set any conditions on the licences.

Mr Buckingham obtained the documents under a freedom of information request.

In an email dated August 6, last year, Lindsay Cohen, a liaison officer to resources minister Chris Hartcher said in relation to the approval of a production licence for Metgasco that "the minister is keen to approve this".

He then said the department will still need to "work on conditions" but that they "want to issue a media release accordingly as a signal to industry that progress is being made".

In another revelation, it seems Metgasco did not want to have any announcement about their production licence being granted before council elections on September 8, possibly because of the CSG referendum being held by Lismore City Council.

And from Lindsay Cohen on August 21: "Confidential: Metgasco advised the minister that it would be premature for the approval to be signed and announced yet as there would be ASX/share price ramifications that need to be planned for.

"They also would prefer it to be grouped with the conditional approval and subsequent announcement of the PELs as discussed in cabinet."

The announcement about Metgasco's production licence, the first issued by the O'Farrell Government was made on September 11 (after the elections) in the last paragraph of a media release about the renewal of other exploration licences.

Lock the Gate Northern Rivers spokeswoman Boudicca Cerese said the documents showed the minister was sending one message to industry and another to the community.

"It exposes the hypocrisy of the State Government," she said.

"On one hand they are trying to convince people that their regulations are world's best practice, yet on the other hand they are trying to push through the licence without even sorting out the conditions."

Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson was incensed at the suggestion the production licence had been "fast-tracked".

He said the conditions for the project were approved in mid 2010 and that the production licence should have been approved "automatically" on receipt of the DA.

"The NSW Government effectively put a hold on CSG activities from the time it came into office in March 2011 through to September 2012, when it announced a range of new policies and regulations for the CSG industry," Mr Henderson said. 

"It was only then, in September 2012, more than two years after development approval that the production licence was offered to Metgasco."

A spokesperson for Mr Hartcher said: "The lease was completely separate to a group of exploration licence renewals that were then under consideration by the Government and which were to be subject to the Government's tough new conditions under the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy."

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